Depressed or Just Down in the Dumps?

Posted under: Mind, Body, Spirit, Relationships

Depressed or Just Down in the Dumps?

We kind of throw the word ‘depression’ or related expressions around pretty loosely these days, “That was a depressing experience” or “I’m just depressed today."


Usually it is intended more as a figure of speech than a clinical diagnosis.


The fact is, however, we men are not very receptive to the notion that we could have a real bout of depression at various times in our lives and thus, we simply don’t recognize it when it’s happening.


Here are some recognized symptoms of depression:

  • Consistent, daily feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, anxiety
  • No interest in hobbies and activities that were once a source of pleasure
  • Extreme changes in eating habits – eating too much; not eating due to loss of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

In addition to the above signs, the National Institute of Mental Health urges individuals to seek counseling or talk to a trusted family member if feelings of “worthlessness” and “helplessness” persist. Sadness or being down in the dumps at certain times is common. Loss of job, divorce, death of a spouse, and other major life events are certainly times to be in the dumps. In fact, grieving over a major loss is considered a healthy part of the recovery process.


But if these feelings of hopelessness, sadness and lethargy continue for an extended period of time, they may be a sign that you need professional help. It’s been estimated that half of all people who have the same depression symptoms will not seek help or be diagnosed as suffering from depression. 


Steps to get you started. First of all, if any of the above symptoms describe you, you may want to talk with someone. If several of them relate to you, seek professional assistance immediately. This is not the time to be bullheaded! If we are temporarily ‘bummed out’ or lethargic and unfocused, then there are some things we can do that may help us to get back on track. Most times our mental condition is a reflection of our physical condition. Lifestyle issues matter in this relationship. Here are a couple of areas to look at:

  1. Check your diet. It is no secret that the Western diet is far from healthy. Fast food, fried foods, processed foods, eating too much and too fast, alcohol consumption and the list goes on. What we take in affects our mental function. Check out the article on ‘Five Foods that Can Improve Your Mental Health’ for more information.
  2. Get on an exercise routine. As we age, we tend to be less active physically. This lower level of activity can speed the decline of physical and mental function. Aches and pains, busyness and a host of excuses cannot be allowed to rule the day. Buy a gym membership, grab a buddy or female friend and go for walks, or go jogging. Something that keeps the system going – you’ll feel better for having done so.
  3. Get engaged in activities. The most likely is our work. Calling in sick or tapping into free days is fine, but if those days are used just to sit and stare at the ceiling then that’s not good. Activities that engaged the whole person are ideal. Our jobs (hopefully), volunteering in the community, going out with friends and engaging in competitive sports are all great avenues for engagement.
  4. Talk to People. Related to our third one above, the emphasis here is on the relational side of activities with others. Having a few close relationships allows us to open up about what is on our minds, get some friendly counsel and have a level of engagement that is personally meaningful – important when we’re kind of out of it from time to time. And, of course, you don’t have to be clinically depressed before you can see a counselor.

Life improvement comes from many different approaches. For most of us admitting that we are struggling emotionally is difficult. Guess it has something to do with a culture where ‘men don’t have problems they can’t handle’, or some such malarkey. It could be argued that the real man is the one who can deal realistically with the truth – being honest with ourselves, and others. Sure it calls for a bit more transparency, perhaps vulnerability, than we may be comfortable with. But, real growth as midlife men calls us to do this.

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