When men and women are depressed they tend to turn inwards but men may appear to take this to a different level. You’ll certainly notice behavior changes. Not only may he reject all offers of help and support he may become tetchy or even hostile. As for advice, well you may need to tread carefully with that one.
Of course if your man (your husband or partner) had problems accepting advice or help before he became depressed there’s no reason to expect he will now. If anything the defenses are up and, to him at least, there’s a smell of role change in the air. Perhaps he has always been the breadwinner, the rock and the person you turn to and he doesn’t want that to change. Plus of course, the socialization of men often tends to make traditional males highly self-contained. He has probably grown up with the notion of men as being assertive, independent, job-focused, unemotional and brave. Alongside this you could maybe read stubborn, unreasonable, inflexible and pessimistic, well, in so far as his health and wellbeing is concerned.
With all these negatives what’s a partner to do? First, it’s useful to know the signs of male depression. Even in these more enlightened times it’s perhaps unlikely for him to openly state that he feels down or depressed, so it’s often a case of reading the signals. Unfortunately the signals can leave many a partner feeling baffled, upset and wondering what on earth they have done wrong. He may spend more time out drinking, or immersing himself in work. When asked why, he’ll shrug you off, find excuses or become irritable. Small things can turn into big upsets, all of which have the effect of making you feel defensive and pushing you away. Paradoxically, if you do back off fully he’ll feel even more isolated and more rejected and his mood may worsen further.
Now some advice; neither you, nor anyone else, have it within their gift to take his depression away. It’s important to emphasize this because you may start to believe you are inadequate in your attempts to help him feel better. In and amongst the long moody silences he may sometimes ramble on about why the world is such a bleak place and look to you for answers. Don’t feel you have to answer. You can try to offer support in different ways and you can sympathize with his plight, but you are not a source of worldly wisdom.
Try to stick with your routine. Don’t stop seeing your friends and family because you are worried. You must take care of yourself and you begin to isolate yourself there’s a danger you will become angry, resentful and even depressed yourself.
Don’t become an emotional punch bag. If he says cruel things or when he openly rejects your support, tell him how it makes you feel. Don’t do it in a confrontational manner by blaming him, but say that it hurts and maybe ask if there is a more specific way you can help him. He may say "yes, just leave me alone" but you’ve sewn an important seed.
Even if your man is depressed and rejects you, it can still be helpful to ask him for help or advice in certain matters. The fact that he still feels needed and useful and that his opinion still counts can provide boosts to his self-esteem and reminds him that you are a partnership.
These are just a few words of advice. If someone else has influence, maybe a close friend, why not draw them in too? Remember though, depression is a process and sometimes a long hard road for the person who suffers with it. If the depression is relatively mild, it may self-correct within 3 months or less, but if more severe it will inevitably benefit from medical intervention.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.