The troubling reality of the world we live in today is that many of us, whether directly or indirectly, have felt the devastating impact of depression-linked suicide. As we try to process these traumas, many are left to ponder the incomprehensible answer to the question:
Suicide, in all its forms, is most often the final desperate act in a fight against depression. This is a battle that can last weeks, months or even years, and commonly occurs in the secret shadows of the mind, where it can rage unseen.
Depression is a relentless enemy and, when left untreated, will apply constant pressure. Hopelessness, worthlessness, grief, apathy and isolation are among the damaging emotions people suffering from depression can experience.
Too many Idahoans have lost this battle and, unfortunately, the data illustrates a particularly concerning trend among adult men. With June being National Men’s Health Month, it’s important we all understand ways to help the men in our lives who may be struggling with depression and thoughts of self-harm.
As a military veteran and in my work as a peer support specialist and recovery coach, I have personally experienced and witnessed the effects of undiagnosed and untreated depression. Sometimes, the news of a suicide attempt or the completion of the act can catch us completely off-guard. Remember: Just because someone carries it well, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about six million men suffer from depression annually. Tragically, men choose more lethal methods when attempting to take their own lives, and complete suicide two to four times more than women. And yet, we know men are far less likely to seek professional help for depression or other behavioral health issues.
But the American Psychological Association says the traditional signs of depression – sadness, worthlessness, excessive guilt – may not be how many men exhibit depression.
Instead, fatigue, irritability, anger, disinterest in work or hobbies, inability to sleep, increased use of alcohol/drugs, and even working excessive hours may be more common indicators of clinical depression in men. Among older men, it may be harder for physicians to recognize depression when a man has a compounding medical diagnosis, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer or stroke.
Our best chance at reducing the damage caused by depression is recognition of the illness and to find treatment. That starts with an awareness that you, or someone close to you, is going through something that seems somewhat “off” or might have changed in some way. This awareness can only be achieved through open, honest, and courageous communication with a loved one or through personal self-reflection.
If you think a man in your life may be struggling with depression, help him find a mental health professional or speak with his medical doctor about his symptoms. Men may be willing to talk to a health care professional about physical issues and, gradually, discuss mental health.
You may decide you want to ask your treatment provider about peer services, as well. Peer services represent a tremendous resource available to individuals who are struggling with depression. A peer support specialist is an individual living in recovery from their own mental health illness and can often foster a meaningful connection through shared experiences. While role-modeling recovery and inspiring hope, they can provide unique support and guidance utilizing a nonclinical, peer-to-peer approach.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts about self-harm, call the Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255 or text 208-398-4357. To learn more about signs of depression and find free tips on how to help, visit Hello Idaho! at optumidaho.com
Tyson Hawkins of Boise is a peer support specialist and recovery coach for Optum Idaho, the behavioral health care provider serving Idaho Medicaid members and their families.