Depression in Men of Color Contributes to High Suicide Rates
The following story is written by Sally Douglas Arce based on an interview with Dr. Will Courtenay, published in the Globe Newspaper, September 9-15, 2009.
Every year in the U.S. more than 33,000 people kill themselves. Although men are more likely than women to die from all the top 10 leading causes of death, the biggest gender difference in deaths is for suicide. Four out of five people who kill themselves are men. Each day, more than 70 U.S. men take their own lives.
“It’s a guy thing — a code of silence among men — to not admit that we’re human or experience pain sometimes,” said Will Courtenay, PhD, a Oakland-based author, researcher and psychotherapist who is an internationally recognized expert in helping men and fathers. “And part of that code of silence is not acknowledging that we can get depressed — we just ‘suck it up.’”
There is a strong, well-established association between depression and suicide. According to Courtenay, “Men’s depression — and their risk for suicide — often goes undetected. One reason is that many men hide their pain from themselves and others.”
And, they don’t always look depressed, Courtenay added.
“Men often don’t cry and don’t express sadness or hopelessness when they’re depressed.”
Although depression is very treatable, mental health professionals are less likely to correctly diagnose depression in both African-Americans and men.
Each day, more than five African-Americans commit suicide — and every four of these deaths are male. People of color report more problems meeting their basic, everyday needs — and this is associated with an increased risk for depression and suicide, Courtenay noted. Also, racial and ethnic discrimination are linked with depression. And those without medical insurance face further challenges in obtaining treatment.
Depression and suicide are tough issues to face — and they can occur at any age. Knowing the warning signs and how to seek help can save lives.
Family members, friends and co-workers play an important role in noticing the warning signs of depression and encouraging the person to obtain help. Depressed men can experience classic symptoms of depression — like feeling hopeless or sad and having a loss of interest in hobbies or sex. Other symptoms of male depression include:
- Irritability and frustration.
- Increased anger and conflict with others.
- Increased stress, impulsiveness and risk taking, like reckless driving and extramarital sex.
- Increased alcohol use.
- Working constantly.
- Withdrawal or isolation from family and friends.
- Ongoing physical problems that doctors can’t explain.
Among people who are depressed, men are more likely than women to do a number of things that increase their risk of suicide, such as:
- Relying on themselves and not seeking help, including professional help.
- Withdrawing socially.
- Trying to talk themselves out of depression.
- Having fewer friends or lacking social support.
- If you’re feeling suicidal, let others know and get help by calling 911 or (800) SUICIDE or by talking to a mental health professional.
- If you think someone is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. Try to get the person to seek immediate help from his or her doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room.
- Don’t expect your doctor to notice, because research shows that physicians and mental health clinicians often overlook men’s depression and risk of suicide.
- Know the symptoms of men’s depression, which can look different from women’s.
- If you can, eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications.
“Talk therapy” – or psychotherapy or counseling – is a proven effective way to reduce depression, and to feel better about yourself and your life.