A Guide to Therapy For Men, From a Man Who’s Been There

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For some guys, the real “F-word” is feelings — just thinking about them can make a man cringe. But when it comes to dealing with mental health issues like depression, therapy can be a central resource in a guy’s recovery.

After a few years of going to therapy to help with depression, I’ve learned seeing a therapist is like seeing a coach or any other professional. Even if a guy doesn’t like to talk about his feelings, that’s OK. Therapy is about more than that. A therapist offers insight, an outlet to get stuff off your chest, mental health expertise and an unbiased perspective.

When I first started going to therapy, I avoided talking about what was really bothering me — feeling lonely, wanting more friends and feeling lost at work and school. I even hid thoughts about suicide.

Eventually I realized two things: One, my therapist could only help me if they know what was going on. And two, it was up to me to apply what we practiced and discussed outside of meetings.

Here are some things I’ve learned as a guy in therapy. If this is something you’re pursuing, hopefully it can help.

1. Be open and honest about what’s really bothering you.

A lot of guys don’t like to admit the problems they’re facing because they want to be the person everyone else can lean on. Admitting feeling stressed or sad seems like admitting to weakness, but that’s not the case. It takes courage to reach out and be honest.

There are still subjects I don’t like to talk about, but now I recognize the power of talking. Often things that seem stressful and overwhelming in my head don’t seem so daunting once I’ve talked them through with someone else. Even when I think I know the answers, it’s better to talk things out. Otherwise I might try to downplay how I’m doing, and I’ll never really face it.

2. Bring notes and set the agenda.

Like many guys, I wasn’t used to having conversations about myself or how I was feeling. Writing notes before meetings helped me prioritize what I needed to discuss, which keeps meetings focused and productive. It also helped me stay on topic if I get stressed, anxious, or try to cop out and not bring something up.

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3. Give talk therapy time to work.

Many guys are results-driven and might give up on talk therapy if they don’t see immediate improvement. Talk therapy takes time and commitment. Be patient, and don’t get frustrated if you don’t see “results” after one or two sessions.

4. Finding someone you trust is key.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, community mental health workers and other professionals who offer talk therapy can all be just as helpful. It’s not about where you go, it’s about finding someone you can trust and giving them a chance to help.

Today, I’m working for HeadsUpGuys, a website that tackles men’s depression. The more I learn about the topic, and the more men I talk to, the more I realize how ingrained male stereotypes are in our society, and how often they prevent men from reaching out.

No guy wants to look weak or like he can’t handle things on his own. This type of thinking works when a guy is carrying his groceries back from the car, but not when applied to serious mental health issues like depression.

Therapy is an important piece of my recovery and one of the simplest ways to fight depression. 

Follow this journey on Mental Health Point of View. To get more information about depression in men, visit HeadsUpGuys

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6 Things You Should Say to Someone Who Has Depression

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We’ve all seen the lists explaining what not to say to someone with depression; never say, “Cheer up!” or “Just snap out of it!”, for example, because doing so just makes things worse for the afflicted individual, and it becomes painfully obvious you don’t understand that depression isn’t just sadness, it’s a disease. So what should you say to someone having a severe depressive episode or an anxiety attack? Here’s a list of suggestions culled from my own near-lifelong battle with this insidious disease.

1. “I’m here for you.”

It’s such a simple phrase but one often forgotten because people are too busy trying to fix what’s wrong with you when you have depression. When you’re having a depressive episode, it’s like you’re in an impenetrable cocoon. Logic doesn’t work because irrationality is running your brain. You’re also often unresponsive, too busy being stuck in your own head. Telling a depressed person you’re there for them is positive, caring and non-judgmental; any sort of phrase such as, “Why can’t you just be happy?” implies judgment, and that only makes things worse since depressed people are already negatively judging themselves.

2. “Do you want to cry? Do you want to talk? Either is OK. I’m ready whenever you are.”

Again, you’re showing non-judgmental compassion above all else. Maybe the depressed person needs to cry things out. It might not work all of the time, especially since sometimes you have no idea why you’re crying when you’re depressed, but by offering the person the opportunity you’re opening yourself up to the depressed person’s potential needs. The same applies for talking. Many times, especially in my case, depressed people dislike talking about things, but by asking someone if they’re ready to talk you’re showing your openness and kindness. Sometimes talking does help because you’re eventually able to see how you spiraled out of control. Sometimes it doesn’t. What’s important is that you, as a man or woman not suffering from the disease, understand that the depressed person might not be ready, but you are whenever the time is right.

3. “I know you have a disease, and I can’t understand how deeply it affects you, but I want to understand.”

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Depression is like any other disease or disorder in that you cannot fathom it until you’ve experienced it. I have no idea what it’s like to have cancer. I have no idea what it’s like to have Tourette syndrome. By acknowledging that you’ve never been in the depressed person’s shoes and that you cannot possibly understand what they’re going through, you might be able to make a chink in the armor. It’s a hard thing to do because we always want to say, “I completely understand how you feel” when someone’s in pain, but it’s just not the truth. Admitting that you don’t know is enormous because you don’t come off exasperated or condescending. Perhaps the depressed person will open up a bit. I know I did when people finally understood how little control I had over my thoughts and emotions.

4. “Call me day or night, especially if you’re thinking of harming yourself!”

Suicidal ideation can occur in depressed people at any moment. One second you’re thinking about eating Goldfish crackers, the next you’re thinking about downing a bottle of pills. The depressed person might not ever act on such thoughts, but the thoughts are still terrifying, and knowing there’s someone out there you can speak to at any moment is terrific reassurance. You become about as trustworthy as possible to a person who trusts nothing and no one. It’s comforting to know there are people to turn to at any moment who will help talk you down. Once I was terrified by suicidal ideation, so I posted on a dad bloggers website and immediately a person I barely knew instant messaged me and wrote, “Give me your phone number!” I did, and he spent the next hour talking me off the proverbial bridge, just calming me down. If you know someone who’s depressed, make sure to let them know they have access to you whenever necessary.

5. “Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth.”

One of the first things that happens when you start to spiral or have an anxiety attack is you forget to breathe, which leads to hyperventilating, which in turn leads to strengthening the episode or attack. Getting people to concentrate on their breathing sometimes helps clear their minds of whatever sent them down the rabbit hole, and often prevents a full on panic attack.

6.“Would you like a hug?”

Sometimes the depressed person will decline (and sometimes I do as well), but this is the most significant one for me because I grew up in a family that lacked physical affection. Simple physical contact via hugging can have tremendous effects. A hug can ground a person going through a depressed episode or an anxiety attack. The person can concentrate on the physical feel of the hug and the warmth behind it instead of his or her roiling mind. It helps them feel secure in a world that’s falling apart inside their head. It’s important that you ask if the person would like a hug because you’re giving the depressed person an option instead of being forceful. Hugs, even to depressed people, are beautiful.

I’ve been battling depression for over 30 years, but most significantly since I had my second breakdown approximately five years ago. These are the thoughts and phrases that have had the most impact on me. You must remember that everyone is different. Some people go deeper than others. Some people with depression never have suicidal ideation. Some don’t want to be touched. Regardless, if you know someone with this disease, try these out and see if they work. Remember not to judge, not to act condescending, not to be forceful, and know that depression is not sadness. It’s a real disease that corrodes the mind.

If you’ve experienced depression, what other phrases have worked for you? What would you like for people to say to you when you’re stuck in a depressive episode?

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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How My Mental Illness is Different Than My Physical Disability

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At a media summit last year, a journalist asked me a question that, on the surface, I anticipated would be difficult to answer. After a few moments’ thought, however, I realized the answer was shockingly simple. The question was, “Which do you find more difficult to deal with – your double amputations and life in a wheelchair, or your depression?” This is what I told her:

Every day I’m forced to confront and overcome the physical limitations that my disability places on me. I have to figure out how to get in and out of the car, or up and down the stairs, or how to reach a mug on a high shelf. They say time waits for no man, and I’m no exception to that rule. Unless I allow life to leave me behind and go on without me, I must face these everyday obstacles, and so I do. I hardly have a choice.

Confronting my depression, however, is far more difficult for me. For years I tried to push it to the back of my mind, but ignoring it only made it worse. Like a wound that goes untreated, it became a festering toxin that tainted all my thoughts and attitudes. That habit of masking my depression and distracting myself with external interests and activities is now a barrier to overcoming it. I must make a concerted effort to acknowledge my incorrect assumptions about the world, evaluate my motives and construct new patterns for my thoughts and behaviors. It’s easy to neglect these mental processes and “just get on with life.”

Someone who’s always placed more emphasis on physical activities, like sport and exercise, may find coming to terms with a new disability more difficult than I have, as my focus has always been on intellectual and creative pursuits. I nevertheless believe that we should all take special care with the way we treat our minds and psyches because for me, it was more difficult to fix the unseen than the physical once it was damaged.

Follow this journey on darylhb.com.

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Why It's Hard to Tell My Husband About My Depression

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My head can be a scary place to live some days.

Yesterday was one of them.

The depression fog had settled in and clouded my every thought. In the midst of a gorgeous summer day the world looked dark. The sweet sound of my kids’ laughter just sounded like noise. Loud, obnoxious noise. The connections with the people I love felt shallow. I felt empty.

Most days, when the depression fog starts to creep in, I can act my way out of it. I use the tools I’ve learned along this journey to help pull me out of my head and into the stream of life. Taking a walk to the playground or the pool with my kids, talking with a friend, shopping, cleaning the house — anything that gets me engaged in life.

But sometimes, submerging myself in activity isn’t enough. Sometimes the depression fog is just too thick — the sunlight beaming through the window is just too bright — and I want to hide.

My husband doesn’t have depression. He doesn’t know what it’s like to feel all alone in a room full of people. He’s never felt the sting of fresh air as you force yourself to leave the house for the first time in days. He doesn’t know what it feels like to have your child smile at you and feel nothing.

It’s easy for people who don’t have depression to look objectively at a person’s life and point out all of the logical reasons why one should not feel sad. But depression isn’t logical. Depression doesn’t care to reason.

Years ago, I remember talking to a friend who was in the midst of deep depression. She had a fabulous life. She was financially secure, in a loving relationship, had a host of friends, loved her job and was drop dead gorgeous. There was no logical reason why she should feel even an ounce of dissatisfaction with her life. She had it made. Whenever we talked, I reminded her of everything she had going for her. I just didn’t understand why she felt so sad. I was so busy trying to pull her out of her depression that I failed to take time to listen to it. To understand it. To get to know it.

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What I’ve learned about depression is that sometimes it wraps us up so tightly we get trapped inside. The world isn’t seeing us, but rather the depression. People aren’t talking to us, they’re talking to our depression. Depression locks us up and holds us captive, making it immensely frustrating for those around us.

My husband fought with my depression yesterday. The angrier he got, the tighter the depression gripped me. He kept wanting to talk and asking me what was wrong. I couldn’t tell him. Every question that was left unanswered fueled his anger. We spent most of the evening in a silent scorn. He went to bed without saying goodnight. I felt defeated.

I sent him a text an hour later that simply said, “Deep depression, I’m sorry.”

He replied with more questions: “Why didn’t you just say that? Next time just tell me you’re depressed so I won’t think it was me.”

I can’t.

That’s the thing about depression. It won’t let me speak. I so badly wanted to talk to him. I needed that human connection. I needed support. I wanted desperately to let him in, but I couldn’t. The depression wouldn’t let me.

My depression fog never lasts long. It’s usually only a day or two. I’ve worked really hard at fighting it. Therapy helped, spirituality helped. Discovering passions, finding hobbies, making deep friendships all helped. But I’ve found the key to fighting my depression was getting to know it. Letting it in and listening to it. Figuring out what feeds it and what triggers it. Finding the holes in its tightly wound grip. And knowing when it seems like I can do nothing else — when actions just feel like motion and the fog gets too thick — the best thing I can do is be still.

My depression wants me to act. It wants me to make a mess of myself and my relationships. It ultimately wants me to die. It tries to convince me a permanent solution to a temporary problem makes sense. It tells me the world would be a better place without me. But because I know my depression well, I know it lies. I know it feeds off of me considering its lies. I believe if I can just be still, listen to it, talk to it and not act on any of its irrational thoughts, my depression has nothing to feed on and will eventually loosen its grip.

Depression is tricky. It’s different for each person it affects. My depression doesn’t look like yours. And your depression doesn’t talk like mine. But the one thing I’ve learned, is that when all else fails, I can just be still.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How Twitter Is Talking About the Worst Part of Depression

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Although more than 350 million people of all ages experience depression worldwide, not a lot of people talk about it. But when the hashtag “The Worst Part Of Depression Is” started trending on Twitter, people started tweeting about their experience with the mental illness, offering insights and advice. These were the tweets that resonated with us most:

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You can join in on the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #TheWorstPartOfDepressionIs.

Related: These 25 Quotes Prove Depression Is More Than Sadness

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

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These 25 Quotes Prove Depression Is More Than Sadness

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For people who experience depression, it’s more than a prolonged period of sadness. Depression has both mental and physical symptoms, or sometimes feels like nothing at all. We asked our readers to describe their own experience with depression, and we received more than 500 poetic and honest responses. If you can relate, you are not alone.

1. “Having depression is being in an abusive relationship with yourself.” — Emily Dotterer

2. “It’s like a daily guilt trip.” — Tommy Sorg

3. “Sometimes it’s heavy… like you’re carrying an elephant. Sometimes it’s dark… you wonder if you’ll ever see light. Sometimes it’s bleak… you wonder if you’ll make it through. And some days there are no words to describe it.” — Tonia Funk Brassell

4. “Having depression is like seeing a rainbow in grayscale.” — Hazel Strickland

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5. “It feels like you’ve swallowed a bag of stones. A heavy feeling somewhere between your heart and stomach.” — Kyla Dale

6. “Depression feels like apathy and shame are your new best friends.” — Julie Riley

7. “I feel like I’m in the ocean with big waves and small waves, just trying to keep my head above water and not drown — but the waves come and go and I’m alone without a life preserver trying to stay afloat.” — Melissa Cote

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8. “It’s like someone unplugged you from the socket of feelings.” — Brenda Sue Hagen

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9. “Having depression is like being trapped in a really bad thunderstorm. You don’t know when it’s going to hit, you never know how long it’s going to last, and when it finally passes, you’re left to survey the damages and pick up the pieces.” — Tiffany Johnson

1o. “It’s like having something heavy sitting on your head all the time.” — Megan Heasley Cutter

11.Depression is like being in a totally round room and looking for a corner to sit in.” — Laura Sloate

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12. “Depression is like falling so deep down the rabbit hole you forget what the sky looks like.” — Robin Brodsky Curtin

13. “Depression is frustrating. It’s knowing there’s so much to be grateful for and happy about and to enjoy, but you just can’t get there.” — Allie Griffin

14. “Depression is like being in a distorted glass prison. It affects your perception of the world and creates an invisible barrier between you and ‘regular’ people.” — Karen Glorsky Epstein

15. “It feels like you’re walking through peanut butter.” — Riley Lee

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16. “Depression is like quicksand — the more you try to escape on your own, the deeper you sink. Use the supports, tools and resources thrown at you from those on the outside.” — Jamie Awtry McClintic

17.It’s an inability to feel anything at all.” — Miriam McCallum 

18.It’s like being in a glass elevator in the middle of a crowded mall; you see everything and would love to join in, but the door won’t open so you can’t.” — Lisa Moore Sherman

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19. “Depression is watching yourself from behind your right shoulder [as you] pretend to live and feel and function.”  — Carol Stewart

20. “Depression is having everything you ever wanted and you’re still not happy.” — Beaulieu Mellem

21. “It’s like having a bully in your head.” — Nicky Limmer

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22.Depression is like living without any of your senses.” — Drew McCaig

23. “Like you’re trying to swim against the flow… in molasses.”  — Alice Evers Sanborn 

24. “It’s like being trapped in a state of mind between awake and asleep.” — Bri Marie

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25. “It’s the chance to look inside you, deeper than anyone else, to understand your feelings, to grow spiritually and to be understanding with others because you know what it feels like to be down.” — Maria Barbato-Arabatzis

*Some answers have been shortened and/or edited.

Do you have a story about your experience with mental illness? We want to hear it. Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. More info here

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