Nothing is more likely to bring a man out in a cold sweat than asking him to talk about his emotions. So how can you spot if your mate's depressed?
One in 8 men experience depression at some stage of their life. Men are more likely to recognise and describe the physical symptoms of depression (such as feeling tired or losing weight) than women. Men may acknowledge feeling irritable or angry, rather than saying they feel low.
Many men hate talking about their feelings because it makes them feel exposed. But if a mate is under stress or feeling depressed, it will help if he talks about it. There are ways you can get him to open up.
Depression isn't just about feeling sad or frustrated. It's about feeling out of control, powerless to handle emotions and unable to see a way out. It can hit anyone at any age and can be triggered by any number of things that can go wrong in our lives. Everyone feels ‘down' occasionally but if your mate has been sad, moody, angry or unable to sleep or concentrate for more than a couple of weeks, it could be depression. He might also lose interest in work, sport, sex, going out, or other things you used to enjoy.
Men can get depressed due to problems with their physical health, relationship or employment, loneliness, a change in their life situation like a divorce or the birth of a baby, or due to alcohol or drug use. It might be a relationship break-up, bullying at school or work, loneliness, or drug or alcohol abuse. There's often no obvious cause. There's often no obvious cause.
So if a friend doesn't seem to have been himself lately, consider the following points.
1. Does he seem moody?
Men often disguise bigger, personal problems by complaining about life's little nuisances. If he's going on and on about the weather or last night's TV, and if you're worried about him already, it could be a sign that something deeper is wrong.
Don't try to talk in your local pub if other mates are around.
2. Has his routine changed?
Is he missing footy when he used to be on the pitch every Sunday? Has he stopped coming out to the pub or suddenly started going clubbing three times a week? Radical changes in behaviour are often a sign that something's up.
3. Is he acting strangely?
See how he talks to other people. Does he snap at co-workers? Has he suddenly become more shy or more confident? Is he drinking much more than he normally does?
If you think something might be wrong, you'll have to do something many men don't want to do: have a serious conversation with your mate.
What can you do to help?
You don't have to say anything clever or have all the answers, but you do need to listen. Here are some tips for helping a friend through difficult times:
- Get him talking. The biggest hurdle can be getting on to the subject in the first place. Let your mate know you want to help, but do it in a non-confrontational way.
- Don't wade in. Don't start off by asking him directly what the problem is, whether it's work or women. You'll make him defensive.
- Try a stealth approach instead. Ask him whether he's OK. Tell him you've been a bit worried about him recently. Or ask him if he wants to go for a drink to talk about it (tell him the drinks are on you).
- Go somewhere discreet. Don't try to talk in your local pub if other mates are around. And definitely don't try to talk seriously if you've both had too much to drink.
- Ask questions rather than offering answers. The psychiatrist's trick is to ask open questions and let the patient do the talking. Ask about how whatever is bothering him started, how the problem has made him feel and whether he's spoken to anyone else about it.
- The hardest part is remembering not to offer advice. Don't tell your mate what to do, just ask more questions. It's the talking that's the therapy, not anything you suggest. If you start lecturing or judging him, he'll be defensive. And your advice could be wrong.
- Keep it serious. It's tempting to make the situation into a joke because it will help you avoid an awkward conversation. But this isn't a good time to joke. It might seem like you're not taking his problems seriously.
- Make sure you're OK yourself. Sharing someone else's troubles can be stressful. Be sure you're fit enough for the job before you get involved.
Man Therapy offers help tailored to men. If the person you're worried about expresses suicidal feelings, contact your doctor, healthdirect on 1800 022 222, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or (if you are under 18) Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 for confidential support and advice and referral where appropriate.
Last reviewed: October 2016