We don’t need to ‘man up’, we need to open up

Men avoid the word 'depression' like it’s the plague, but that's not helping us.

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“Harden up, soft cock”. That’s probably what most men expect to hear when they say they’re a bit down. Right?

Even now isn’t it strange that I’ve said “a bit down” instead of depressed? Men avoid that word like it’s the plague. Don’t show your vulnerability, champ, just man up and get on with it.

I’ve had a few friends suffer from depression, and my cousin committed suicide in his early twenties leaving me shocked and empty. I just didn’t see that coming. That’s usually the problem with men, you don’t see it coming because we learn to push it all down and hide it until it’s often too late.

I recently discovered men could also suffer postnatal depression. I thought, ‘um, how?’ I mean really, how?

Can you even imagine a man being pregnant?

“What do you mean I can’t drink for nine months?” That fact alone would make most blokes depressed. I remember going nine months without a drink and I was miserable!

Women carry a child in their belly for nine months or more sometimes. Hell, most days I don’t even like carrying my kid to the car.

After childbirth, women experience huge hormonal changes that can affect their mood or sense of well-being. Do men? A man has never had to give birth. I’m not sure any would want to.

I was present for the birth of my children and there is no way I would want to do that, even if it was an option on Fear Factor. “Hey, for one million dollars, you could give birth to a child OR eat this truckload of cockroaches”. I’d be like “back that truck in”.

In fact, most women feel the “baby blues”, a period of “mild depression or anxiety and mood swings” which is so common in new mums it has its own name.

Pregnancy Banner 12 months 300x250

Perinatal anxiety and depression is quite different (and more serious). It affects one in six mothers and one in 10 fathers. That’s right, men aren’t immune from perinatal anxiety and depression.

Commonly, but definitely not always, this can be “as a response to a partner’s illness or a partner who is ‘down’ all the time. In fact, if the mother is depressed the whole family is affected: partner, baby and other kids. That’s why it’s essential to get help straight away”.

[The term “perinatal” covers both antenatal depression and anxiety (occurring during pregnancy) and postnatal depression and anxiety.]

My mate suffered postnatal depression

I found out about male postnatal depression because a friend of mine had it. Not that he told me about it obviously, because men rarely tell each other those sort of things. I found out from my wife.

My mate had started to avoid his family shortly after his baby was born. He’d stay late at work and then go out drinking every night once he’d knocked off. I didn’t think that was because he had depression, I just thought that’s what people do when they work hard. They need to relieve stress by getting pissed.

I say this because I’ve done exactly the same thing. I had convinced myself that I deserved to smash beers at 5pm every day once the kids were having dinner. I’d convinced myself this was typical Dad behaviour.

“Give yourself a pat on the back, mate, you made it through another day. Nobody died out there. You kept your kids happy and safe, you’re exhausted, have a few beers. You deserve it.”

I did that nearly every day after my first child was born. By two he already knew what Daddy’s beer was. He even asked me one night if he could get me a beer.

Now, that might sound pretty cool to think I could have a tiny waiter indoctrinated into my household. I actually laughed when he said that to me as it reminded me of a gruff Henry Fonda in the film On Golden Pond when he asked “What’s the use of having a dwarf if he doesn’t do any chores?”

I don’t want my child doing those sorts of chores nor do I want to be a chore in my household. It’s only been a year since that happened and he’s not asked to do it again. I’ve now not had a drink for nearly 14 months and counting but that’s an entirely different story.

Talking about feelings felt like a taboo

I thought about male depression a lot after my wife told me our friend and his wife had gone to see a GP after an emotional meltdown left them searching for answers.

He’d been holding it all in, bottling it up and trying to hide it from his wife. Why? Well because men don’t talk about their feelings enough. That started worrying me. It worried me enough to do some research because nobody seems to talk about it. It’s almost taboo. I mean no man wants to discuss his problems with anyone. It’s not the ‘done thing’ as men should ‘snap out of it’ or ‘harden up’.

Why do I have to harden up? It’s something that can be passed on through generations. I can’t say I ever saw my Dad cry. I’ve seen him mad. Men are good at mad. I’m good at it too. That’s how we express anything other than joy.

RELATED: ‘When do I get to talk about how I feel?’

But big boys don’t cry

We’ve got happy and angry covered and we don’t ever talk about feeling sad. Sure, we might wipe a few cheeky tears away after The Lion King or Toy Story 3 and what’s wrong with bawling at the footy grand final? Those men are bloody heroes!

Research shows that 80 per cent repress their feelings of sadness or anxiety by putting on a brave face, but it seems it isn’t helping.

The Head of Information at Mind, Stephen Buckley, told Huffington Post UK research showed that “almost a third of men would be embarrassed about seeking help for a mental health problem and less than a quarter of men would visit their GP if they felt down for more than two weeks, in comparison to a third of women”.

Crying is an ideal way to externalise your problems and a great first step towards getting help.

Buckley also told The Telegraph that, “issues such as self-stigmatisation, or the idea that ‘real men don’t cry’, can prevent men from accessing the help they need.

“Men are half as likely to talk to their friends about problems as women and only 31 per cent of men would discuss worries with their relatives, compared to 54 per cent of women,” he says.

“While women tend to have a solid network of friends and family with whom they are comfortable discussing emotional issues, men are much more likely to rely solely on their partner — if anyone at all. This puts men at a greater risk of emotional isolation.”

Being a dad can be brutal

On one hand you’re excited that a new life has entered the mix, but on the other hand you’re extremely aware of the death of your old life or your old self.

Sleep deprivation kicks in, mixed with pressures from work, added financial pressures and the evaporation of romance on any level. That’d give anyone the blues.

I wasn’t depressed after my kids were born but I did have my moments. If you think chickens have got it bad not being free range I live in a two-bedroom apartment with my wife and two kids … I’m barely free range.

At one point in our newborn haze I remember going for a walk with my dog and in a daze just let him off the lead, walked into the public toilet and locked myself in there for 45 minutes! I get it now.

That’s why men need sheds, just a simple space of their own to lock themselves in and have bit of a cry wank!

I know from personal experience that most blokes think if they’re feeling a little down that a few froths will fix it.

Like I said, I was knocking the top off a few nearly every day until I realised it was exhausting me further the following day; making me count the seconds until 5pm when I could crack my first beer; and sending me broke!

You’re not alone

On average, one in eight men (dad or no dad) will experience depression and one in five will suffer anxiety at some point in their lives. And a more unsettling figure is that six out of every eight suicides in Australia is a man.

The best thing to do if you are feeling overwhelmed or down, reach out to someone. Talk to your partner, get help from a GP, or see a psychologist and try to somehow sneak in some quality time for yourself, that doesn’t mean going to the pub.

Catch up with mates, go on a date with your missus, shave your beard off then regrow your beard, then go to a salon and have your beard styled, whatever it takes to switch your focus onto something else that helps bring back some joy in your life.

But most importantly, try to get some exercise.

If you are suffering, I want to tell you this: You’re not a soft cock.

You’re human too, you’re allowed to feel shithouse and you’re just trying to do the f*cking best you can.

If you think you or someone you know is suffering from depression and you would like to seek support, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), Dads in Distress (1300 853 437), or the Ngala Helpline (9368 9368/country access: 1800 111 546).

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