Could the Man in your Life be Depressed? (and what does it mean for you?)

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Depression typically looks and feels angrier in men than it does in women. But it is a complex experience that should not be oversimplified.

Do you suspect that a man in your life may be depressed? Unlike women, who are often sad or weepy when depressed, men typically exhibit anger, irritability or complain of “stress.” This is in addition to other depressive symptoms, including loss of interest or pleasure; either sluggishness or agitation; change in sleep, appetite or concentration; feelings of guilt or worthlessness and recurrent thoughts of death. Five or more of these symptoms for 2 consecutive weeks could signal major depressive disorder. The attached article briefly explains depression in men, how to identify it, and how to sensitively encourage the man in your life to seek help.

Excluded from the article is the fact that depressive symptoms aren’t limited to the bouts of moodiness described above. Some people have a “depressive personality,” [*] which can manifest in early childhood. There are 2 subtypes of this form of depression: Introjectively depressed people feel chronically guilty, perfectionistic and self-critical. When things go wrong they reflexively blame themselves, and use it as further evidence of their worthlessness or “badness.”

Anaclitically depressed people are highly sensitive to loss and rejection, feel lonely, helpless and weak. They are very needy of others, and the loss (or threat of loss) of a significant relationship for them can create emotional chaos, disintegration, and a sense of meaninglessness. Analytic depression shares features of Abandonment depression

Importantly, unlike some depressive mood symptoms (such as anger and fatigue listed above), depressive personality symptoms do not respond to medications like SSRIs. Rather, they tend to endure even after the depressive mood symptoms have receded, because they are, in effect, part of one’s character. However, through psychotherapy designed to treat the personality rather than behavioral and/or cognitive symptoms, depressive personality features can diminish. Psychodynamic therapy and psychoanalysis are examples of such treatments.

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Having a depressed partner is always cause for looking in the mirror.

Perhaps the most salient point in the article is the following sentence: If your husband (or boyfriend) is depressed and you feel helpless, consider getting therapy for yourself. I would opine that therapy for yourself is not primarily to help your significant other, as the article suggests, but rather, to help you. The individuals we pick as partners at any given time in our lives reflect something about who we are and where we are on our developmental journey. So, if you think your partner is depressed, you might wonder to yourself what you are seeking from the relationship. Do you find yourself propping up your partner emotionally? If so, do you resent that role, or find it gratifying in some way? How needed do you feel in the relationship? How important is it for you to feel needed? How do you imagine you would feel without this person: Lost? Incomplete? Relieved? Sometimes we learn the most about ourselves by looking very closely at the company we keep.

[*] All information regarding depressive personality is from PDM Task Force (2006). Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual. Silver Spring, MD: Alliance of Psychoanalytic Organizations (pp. 44-45).