The "Black Dog"

Newsweek had an article on men and depression last week and the full text is now up on their Web site. I have a few – well, more than a few – comments on the article.

"Six million American men will be diagnosed with depression this year. But millions more suffer silently, unaware that their problem has a name or unwilling to seek treatment. … the facts suggest that, well, men tend not to take care of themselves and are reluctant to own up to mental illness.

Instead of talking about their feelings, men may mask them with alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, anger or by becoming workaholics. And even when they do realize they have a problem, men often view asking for help as an admission of weakness, a betrayal of their male identities."

I don’t need to say it, but I will anyway: This is common. My husband is a prime example.

My husband refused to admit that he suffered from depression for a long time. He would chalk it up to a "bad day" or "feeling crappy," but depressed? Never. After my most recent swing of suicidal attempts, it triggered his depression into a full-blown episode. He currently suffers from depression and chronic anxiety. (The anxiety is basically excessive worry.) For years, he never allowed his parents to see him cry. He’d refrain from tears around me when I told him I had an overly sensitive ex who cried at the drop of a hat. When speaking to others, he acted like everything was OK. Considering that he’s an even-tempered man (no highs, no lows), no one could detect everything. He kept it all inside.

His point of weakness? Allowing his father to see him cry. It was bad enough that his mother saw him crying, but his dad? That was a huge blow to his ego. Not only was it "an admission of weakness," it was "a betrayal of" his male identity. He’d always prided himself on seeming like he had his life all together. Breaking down and hysterically crying was like tearing his manhood apart. Besides, isn’t it "girly" for a man to cry? They’re supposed to keep it all inside and act like nothing’s wrong.

"Instead of talking about their feelings, men may mask them with alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, anger or by becoming workaholics."

I’d rather have my husband cry and vent instead of doing any of the previously mentioned.

"The Gary Cooper model of manhood … is so deeply embedded in our social psyche that some men would rather kill themselves than confront the fact that they feel despondent, inadequate or helpless.

‘Our definition of a successful man in this culture does not include being depressed, down or sad,’ says Michael Addis, chair of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts. ‘In many ways it’s the exact opposite. A successful man is always up, positive, in charge and in control of his emotions.’"

I’m sure in my husband’s mind, he wasn’t successful. In fact, he’s admitted to being a "failure" many times. He’ll use the fact that he suffers from anxiety, gets depressed, and cries a lot as the reason that he’s "failed" me. I tell him it’s not true, but at times, he’s intent on not believing me. If he’s not always "up, positive, in charge and in control of his emotions" then he’s a failure. This is a common misconception, one of which my husband has fallen prey to.

"For decades, psychologists believed that men experienced depression at only a fraction of the rate of women. But this overly rosy view, doctors now recognize, was due to the fact that men were better at hiding their feelings."

Men don’t talk about their feelings. They talk about sports; they talk about the weather; they talk about cars; they talk about girls; they talk about drinking; they’ll talk briefly about their families.

Men don’t talk about how they feel. Men with feelings are either sissies or gay. See where I’m going?

"Depression-screening tests are so effective at early detection and may prevent so many future problems (and expenses) that the U.S. Army is rolling out a new, enhanced screening program for soldiers returning from Iraq."

And when they’ve recovered or their illness is "in remission," the Army has no problem sending the same troops back into combat. Something in this article that concerned me, however:

"In clinical trials, scientists found that a single, IV-administered dose of ketamine, an animal tranquilizer, reduced the symptoms of depression in just two to three hours and had long-lasting effects. Because of its hallucinogenic side effects, ketamine can never be used out of controlled environments. But the success of the trial is giving scientists new ideas about drugs and methods of administering them."

OK, ketamine. Isn’t this the "Special K" drug that can be addictive? I have a friend who worked in a vet hospital and she would steal ketamine and get high off of that crap. While ketamine can reduce the symptoms of depression, it can also induce hallucinogenic effects. Therefore, while a person is depressed while receiving ketamine treatment, he can possibly hallucinate. If he’s hallucinating – oh no – now he’s got psychosis which leads to a new diagnosis. Now, the doc’s got to put him on an antipsychotic in addition to his ketamine treatment. Am I the only one who finds administering an animal tranquilizers to humans disturbing?

"The most effective remedy remains a combination of medication and therapy, but finding the right drug and dosage is still more art than science. The nation’s largest depression-treatment study, STAR*D, a three-year NIMH-funded project, found that 67 percent of patients who complete from one to four treatment steps, such as trying a different medication or seeking counseling, can reach remission."

I’m still trying to figure out what STAR*D is, but I know that therapy is the best route before considering medication. I go on rants about how America suffers from what I’ve deemed OOPS (Overdiagnosed and Overmedicated Patient Syndrome), but it’s unbelievable what doctors will do to a patient who’s normally depressed over a loved one’s death. "Here, take Zoloft," the doc says. "You can take it for a short period of time until your symptoms go away."

What happened to GRIEVING? Are people not allowed to have emotions anymore? Is it wrong to be sad over saddening events? If a woman is depressed during a messy divorce battle, why is she immediately thrown on meds? So she can feel better once the court proceedings are over? Maybe she could have dealt with the situation without antidepressants. We’re suffering from a widespread OOPS epidemic. Doctors dole out antidepressants for depression like antibiotics for colds. And doctors dole out stimulation medication (i.e. Ritalin) to kids like people hand out candy on Halloween. (Alas, another story for another day.) 

"Taking care of yourself physically, mentally and emotionally—maybe that’s the real definition of what it means to be a man."

I can only hope and pray that this country learns that lesson in the coming century.

For the next couple of days, I’ll have a series on my husband Bob’s depression. I do detour into my experience with psych drugs and suicide but then hop on track in the end. Remember, I’m also suffering from a version of OOPS – Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

*sigh* I can’t help but wonder whether depression, anxiety, and 75 % of other mental illnesses are just a fabrication  and patients are mere pawns in the wild game of  pharmaceutical chess.

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2 Comments

  1. Amy- "Honey's" mom said,

    March 4, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Hi Marissa! It is so sad that our normal human emotions have been turned into “disease”. Even more sad that we are taught/pressured into believing that painful emotions should be numbed with drugs. No wonder it is so hard to “recover”– so drugged up that you cant feel the emotions — the emotions that were meant to be a sign that you needed to work through something– not cover up something. And drugs cause more strange emotion and physical symptoms to make you feel even more a wreck. (My daughter Honey said a number of times that she felt worse taking the damn Zoloft then when she was just sad on her own (with no drug). So then patients are led to feel that yes, this must be a real disease– and I need more/different drug (your “OOPS”- if this whole thing didn’t make me so mad, I would think that was funny). Marissa, I wonder right along with your wondering -that much of mental illness is a fabrication… and a pharmaceutical gold mine fabrication at that. We (those taking psychotropic drugs/those loving people who are taking them) are pawns in the biggest drug study ever.

  2. Gianna said,

    March 4, 2007 at 10:56 pm

    Good job! I’m a casualty of the OOPS generation as well. Still unclear how far I can go paring away at the drugs…but here I go!


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