Beware the black dog
3rd October 2013

In the following, published in the Herald Sun, I explore what needs to be done to confront depression - especially in relation to men.

 LAST week’s annual World Suicide Day may have got lost in the post-election tidal wave of comment and analysis but, as noted by beyondblue’s Jeff Kennett, May 10 is a date worth remembering and an issue that won’t go away.

In 2009, the most recent figures available, there were six suicides a day, amounting to 2132 lives, with thousands more suffering depression and anxiety. Men are more than four times more likely than women to commit suicide, with young men most vulnerable.

A survey of men aged 16 to 25 by the Young and Well Co-operative Research Centre found one in five felt life had little purpose, 27 per cent felt depressed and 40 per cent suffered psychological distress.

Why are men so vulnerable? One reason is because, since childhood, we are told to hide our feelings and warned that real men don’t cry. Men have to be brave, never give in and always battle on.

Wrong. While it’s OK to be stoic, it’s even more important to be honest and to reveal the hurt, stress and anxiety. Bottling emotions and trying to hide the pain solves nothing and only leads to further depression. Even worse, turning to alcohol and drugs, while providing an immediate escape, only compounds the problem and leads to an ever-spiralling descent into darkness and despair.

I know — from personal experience when our son was killed in a hit-and-run accident some years ago — that the worst way to respond is to deny what happened, keep a brave face to the world and pretend you are still in control.

Better to open up, be honest about feeling depressed and admit that you need help.

Life is a journey, as they say, and the danger is in believing that what you feel at one point in time is what you will be condemned to experience year after year.

While there is no closure and time does not heal completely, its passing can provide a better and more balanced perspective. For men, in particular, it is also vital to understand that depression can distort and colour how you view life and respond to others. Anxiety and suffering can quickly turn to anger and the temptation is to strike out against those closest and who are often in the best position to help. There’s no doubt that a good deal of family violence, while inexcusable, is often caused by men unable to deal with depression.

As proven by the success of Australia’s Men’s Shed Association, it is also vital to be physical and active and open with other men. As women appear to know instinctively, admitting fears and revealing anxieties to others lightens the burden.

It is possible to channel anxiety and grief into something positive.

Winston Churchill, whenever he felt the black dog of depression coming on, worked in his garden or painted. For me, writing offers the chance to immerse in something immediate and creative.

While we live in a secular and materialistic world, one where celebrity culture rules and happiness is defined by how much we possess, it is also true that there are larger forces at work beyond our control. The reality is that events are often outside our control and sometimes it is better to give yourself up to something higher instead of struggling and fighting against what is inevitable.

It might sound old-fashioned, but it’s also true that depression represents a test of character. As M says in the most recent James Bond film, instead of giving up hope, far better to agree with the line from Tennyson’s poem, Ulysses, where the challenge is “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”. 


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3rd October 2013

In the following, published in the Herald Sun, I explore what needs to be done to confront depression - especially in relation to men. LAST week’s annual World Suicide Day may have got lost i...
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