Men and Depression

In my years f doing groups I have on occasion facilitated men only groups. One issue that comes up is depression. We all have bouts of sadness now and then and when those bouts of sadness interfere with our daily lives than we need to take a step in the direction of change. Below is a handout I often use, particularly with dual diagnosed men.


Symptoms of Depression

Not everyone who is depressed or manic experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few; some people suffer many. The severity of symptoms varies among individuals and also over time.

· Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood.

· Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism.

· Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.

· Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable

· Decreased energy, fatigue; feeling “slowed down.”

· Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions.

· Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping.

· Changes in appetite and/or weight.

· Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.

· Restlessness or irritability.

· Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment.

Co-Occurrence of Depression with Other Illnesses

Depression can coexist with other illnesses. In such cases, it is important that the depression and each co-occurring illness be appropriately diagnosed and treated. Research has shown that anxiety disorders which include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder commonly accompany depression.

Substance use disorders (abuse or dependence) also frequently co-occur with depressive disorders. Research has revealed that people with drug and/or alcohol addiction are almost twice as likely to experience depression.

Depression has been found to occur at a higher rate among people who have other serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV, diabetes, and Parkinson’s.

Causes of Depression

Very often, a combination of cognitive, genetic, and environmental factors is involved in the onset of depression. Modern brain-imaging technologies reveal that, in depression, neural circuits responsible for the regulation of moods, thinking, sleep, appetite, and behavior fail to function properly.

In some families, depressive disorders seem to occur generation after generation; however, they can also occur in people with no family history of these illnesses. Genetics research indicates that risk for depression results from the influence of specific multiple genes acting together with non-genetic factors.

Environmental factors such as trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, financial problem, or any stressful change in life patterns, whether the change is unwelcome or desired, can trigger a depressive episode in vulnerable individuals. Once someone experiences a bout of depression later episodes of depression may occur without an obvious cause.

Men and Depression

Men are more likely than women to report alcohol and drug abuse or dependence in their lifetime; however, there is debate among researchers as to whether substance use is a “symptom” of underlying depression in men or a co-occurring condition that more commonly develops in men. Nevertheless, substance use can mask depression, making it harder to recognize depression as a separate illness that needs treatment.

Instead of acknowledging their feelings, asking for help, or seeking appropriate treatment, men may turn to alcohol or drugs when they are depressed, or become frustrated, discouraged, angry, irritable, and, sometimes, violently abusive. Some men deal with depression by throwing themselves compulsively into their work, attempting to hide their depression from themselves, family, and friends. Other men may respond to depression by engaging in reckless behavior, taking risks, and putting themselves in harm’s way.msclip-139.jpg

How to Help Yourself if You Are Depressed

Depressive disorders can make one feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the depression and do not accurately reflect the actual circumstances. Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime:

  • Engage in mild exercise. Go to a movie, a ballgame, or participate in religious, social, AA/NA meetings or other healthy activities.
  • Set realistic goals and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility.
  • Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and what you can as you can.
  • Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive.
  • Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately.
  • Feeling better takes time. Often during treatment of depression, sleep and appetite will begin to improve before depressed mood lifts.
  • Postpone important decisions. Before deciding to make a significant transition–change jobs, get married or divorced–discuss it with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
  • Do not expect to ‘snap out of’ a depression. But do expect to feel a little better day-by-day.
  • Remember, positive thinking will replace the negative thinking as your depression responds to treatment.
  • Let your family and friends help you.


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I thought I had

I thought I had an appetite for destruction, but all I wanted was a club sandwich.

Homer Simpson


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Self-Care and Depression

As a clinical psychologist, Mary Pipher, PhD, designed “healing packages” for her patients: activities, resources, and comforts to help them recover from trauma. Then, after Dr. Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia became a runaway best-seller, she herself suffered from an episode of major depression and designed a healing package of her own. “The essence of my personal healing package,” she describes in her book Seeking Peace, “was to keep my life as simple and quiet as possible and to allow myself sensual and small pleasures.” She created a mini-retreat center in her home and modified the ancient ways of calming troubled nerves to fit her lifestyle. Pipher’s healing package looked like this:

She accessed the healing power of water by walking at Holmes Lake Dam, swimming at the university’s indoor pool, and reading The New Yorker magazine in the bathtub every morning.loneliness1.jpg

She cooked familiar foods, dishes that reminded her of home: jaternice, sweetbreads, and perch; and cornbread and pinto beans with ham hocks.

She unpacked her childhood teacup collection and displayed it near her computer desk to remind her of happy times and of people who loved her.

She reconnected with the natural world by walking many miles every week on the frozen prairie, watching the yellow aconites blossom in February and the daffodils and jonquils in March, following the cycles of the moon, and witnessing sunrises and sunsets.

She read biographies of heroes like Abe Lincoln, and read the poetry of Billy Collins, Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, and Ted Kooser.

She found role models for coping with adversity.

She limited her encounters with people and gave herself permission to skip holiday gatherings and postpone social obligations. She erased calendar engagements until she had three months of “white space” in her future.

She embraced her body through yoga and massage. She started to pay attention to tension in her neck and other cues from her body and let those signals teach her about herself.

msclip-030.jpgShe meditated every day.

These activities were exactly what she needed to emerge from the other side of depression. She writes:

After taking care of my body for several months, it began to take good care of me. My blood pressure improved and my heart problems disappeared. After a few months of my simple, relatively stress-free life and my healing package of activities, I felt my depression lifting. I enjoyed the return of positive emotions: contentment, joy, calmness and new sparks of curiosity and energy. I again felt a great tenderness toward others.


Psychiatrist James Gordon, MD, discusses similar healing packages in his best-selling book Unstuck. At the end of his first meetings with all of his patients, he will write out a “prescription of self-care,” which includes instructions on changing diet, advice about specific recommended meditations or exercises, and a list of supplements and herbs. “Among my recommendations, there are always actions, techniques, approaches, and attitudes that each person has told me — which she already knows — are helpful,” he explains. At the end of his introduction, he suggests each reader take some time to write out his or her own prescription. He supplies a form and everything.

Each person’s healing package is unique. Many people have benefited from more meditation and mindfulness exercises, psychotherapy sessions, and therapies like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that help unclog the brain of painful memories. Some people do better with more physical exercise and nutritional changes. While mindfulness and meditation have certainly helped many become aware of my rumination patterns, the most profound changes in others recovery  have come from the bags of dark, green leafy vegetables, yoga, and breathing exercises.

It’s empowering to know that we don’t need a doctor or any mental health professional to design a healing package for us. We are perfectly capable of writing this prescription ourselves. Sometimes (not always), all it takes are a few simple tweaks to our lifestyle over a period of time to pull us out of a crippling depression or unrelenting anxiety.

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What is depression? – Helen M. Farrell

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Serotonin deficiency may not be linked to depression

Depression strikes some 35 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, contributing to lowered quality of life as well as an increased risk of heart disease and suicide. Treatments typically include psychotherapy, support groups and education as well as psychiatric medications. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, currently are the most commonly prescribed category of antidepressant drugs in the U.S., and have become a household name in treating depression.feelings-54.jpg

The action of these compounds is fairly familiar. SSRIs increase available levels of serotonin, sometimes referred to as the feel-good neurotransmitter, in our brains. Neurons communicate via neurotransmitters, chemicals which pass from one nerve cell to another. A transporter molecule recycles unused transmitter and carries it back to the pre-synaptic cell. For serotonin, that shuttle is called SERT (short for “serotonin transporter”). An SSRI binds to SERT and blocks its activity, allowing more serotonin to remain in the spaces between neurons. Yet, exactly how this biochemistry then works against depression remains a scientific mystery.

In fact, SSRIs fail to work for mild cases of depression, suggesting that regulating serotonin might be an indirect treatment only. “There’s really no evidence that depression is a serotonin-deficiency syndrome,” says Alan Gelenberg, a depression and psychiatric researcher at The Pennsylvania State University. “It’s like saying that a headache is an aspirin-deficiency syndrome.” SSRIs work insofar as they reduce the symptoms of depression, but “they’re pretty nonspecific,” he adds.

Now, research headed up by neuroscientists David Gurwitz and Noam Shomron of Tel Aviv University in Israel supports recent thinking that rather than a shortage of serotonin, a lack of synaptogenesis (the growth of new synapses, or nerve contacts) and neurogenesis (the generation and migration of new neurons) could cause depression. In this model lower serotonin levels would merely result when cells stopped making new connections among neurons or the brain stopped making new neurons. So, directly treating the cause of this diminished neuronal activity could prove to be a more effective therapy for depression than simply relying on drugs to increase serotonin levels.

Evidence for this line of thought came when their team found that cells in culture exposed to a 21-day course of the common SSRI paroxetine (Paxil is one of the brand names) expressed significantly more of the gene for an integrin protein called ITGB3 (integrin beta-3). Integrins are known to play a role in cell adhesion and connectivity and therefore are essential for synaptogenesis. The scientists think SSRIs might promote synaptogenesis and neurogenesis by turning on genes that make ITGB3 as well as other proteins that are involved in these processes. A microarray, which can house an entire genome on one laboratory slide, was used to pinpoint the involved genes. Of the 14 genes that showed increased activity in the paroxetine-treated cells, the gene that expresses ITGB3 showed the greatest increase in activity. That gene,ITGB3, is also crucial for the activity of SERT. Intriguingly, none of the 14 genes are related to serotonin signaling or metabolism, and, ITGB3 has never before been implicated in depression or an SSRI mode of action.

These results, published October 15 2013 in Translational Psychiatry, suggest that SSRIs do indeed work by blocking SERT. But, the bigger picture lies in the fact that in order to make up for the lull in SERT, more ITGB3 is produced, which then goes to work in bolstering synaptogenesis and neurogenesis, the true culprits behind depression. “There are many studies proposing that antidepressants act by promoting synaptogenesis and neurogenesis,” Gurwitz says. “Our work takes one big step on the road for validating such suggestions.”


The research is weakened by its reliance on observations of cells in culture rather than in actual patients. The SSRI dose typically delivered to a patient’s brain is actually a fraction of what is swallowed in a pill. “Obvious next steps are showing that what we found here is indeed viewed in patients as well,” Shomron says.

The study turned up additional drug targets for treating depression—two microRNA molecules, miR-221 and miR-222. Essentially, microRNAs are small molecules that can turn a gene off by binding to it. The microarray results showed a significant decrease in the expression of miR-221 and miR-222, both of which are predicted to target ITGB3, when cells were exposed to paroxetine. So, a drug that could prevent those molecules from inhibiting the production of the ITGB3 protein would arguably enable the growth of more new neurons and synapses. And, if the neurogenesis and synaptogenesis hypothesis holds, a drug that specifically targeted miR-221 or miR-222 could bring sunnier days to those suffering from depression.

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it’s the courage



Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts. Winston Churchil

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Types of Depression

Whether you’re a college student in the middle of a major slump, a new mom who can’t pinpoint why she’s feeling so glum, or a retiree grieving over the loss of a loved one, that question isn’t an easy one to answer.21789-113979.jpg

But there’s one thing for sure: “It is much more than just a sad mood,” said Angelos Halaris, MD, a professor of psychiatry and medical director of adult psychiatry at the Loyola University Medical Center in Chicago. Symptoms may include everything from hopelessness and fatigue to physical pain. And just as symptoms vary from person to person, so do the actual diagnoses. The word depression is actually just an umbrella term for a number of different forms, from major depression to atypical depression to dysthymia.

The most common form of depression? Major depression. In fact, about 7 percent of the adult U.S. population has this debilitating mental health condition at any given time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

If you’re experiencing major depression, you may feel and see symptoms of extreme sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, irritability, trouble concentrating, changes in sleep or eating habits, feelings of guilt, physical pain, and thoughts of death or suicide — and for an official diagnosis, your symptoms must last for more than two weeks. In some instances, a person might only experience one episode of major depression, but the condition tends to recur throughout a person’s life.

The best treatment is usually with antidepressant medications, explained Dr. Halaris, but talk therapy may also be used to treat depression. And there’s good news: An estimated 80 to 90 percent of people with major depression respond well to treatment.

About 2 percent of the American population has a form of depression that’s less severe than major depression, but is still very real — dysthymia.

Dysthymia is a type of depression that causes a low mood over a long period of time — perhaps for a year or more, explained Halaris. “People can function adequately, but not optimally.” Symptoms include sadness, trouble concentrating, fatigue, and changes in sleep habits and appetite.

This depression usually responds better to talk therapy than to medications, though some studies suggest that combining medication with talk therapy may lead to the greatest improvement. People with dysthymia may also be at risk for episodes of major depression.

A whopping 85 percent of new moms feel some sadness after their baby is born — but for up to 16 percent of women, that sadness is serious enough to be diagnosable.5241352878_f53a343088.jpg

Postpartum depression is characterized by feelings of extreme sadness, fatigue, loneliness, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, fears about hurting the baby, and feelings of disconnect from the child. It can occur anywhere from weeks to months after childbirth, and Halaris explained it most always develops within a year after a woman has given birth.

“It needs prompt and experienced medical care,” he said — and that may include a combination of talk and drug therapy.

Would you prefer to hibernate during the winter than face those cold, dreary days? Do you tend to gain weight, feel blue, and withdraw socially during the season?

You could be one of 4 to 6 percent of people in the United States estimated to have seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Though many people find themselves in winter funks, SAD is characterized by symptoms of anxiety, increased irritability, daytime fatigue, and weight gain. This form of depression typically occurs in winter climates, likely due to the lessening of natural sunlight. “We don’t really know why some people are more sensitive to this reduction in light,” said Halaris. “But symptoms are usually mild, though they can be severe.”

This depression usually starts in early winter and lifts in the spring, and it can be treated with light therapy or artificial light treatment.

Despite its name, atypical depression is not unusual. In fact, it may be one of the most common types of depression — and some doctors even believe it is underdiagnosed.

“This type of depression is less well understood than major depression,” explained Halaris. Unlike major depression, a common sign of atypical depression is a sense of heaviness in the arms and legs — like a form of paralysis. However, a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry (now known as JAMA Psychiatry) found that oversleeping and overeating are the two most important symptoms for diagnosing atypical depression. People with the condition may also gain weight, be irritable, and have relationship problems.

Some studies show that talk therapy works well to treat this kind of depression.

Psychosis — a mental state characterized by false beliefs, known as delusions, or false sights or sounds, known as hallucinations — doesn’t typically get associated with depression. But according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 20 percent of people with depression have episodes so severe that they see or hear things that are not really there.

“People with this psychotic depression may become catatonic, not speak, or not leave their bed,” explained Halaris. Treatment may require a combination of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications. A review of 10 studies concluded that it may be best to start with an antidepressant drug alone and then add an antipsychotic drug if needed. Another review, however, found the combination of medications was more effective than either drug alone in treating psychotic depression.

If your periods of extreme lows are followed by periods of extreme highs, you could have bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic depressive disorder because symptoms can alternate between mania and depression).

Symptoms of mania include high energy, excitement, racing thoughts, and poor judgment. “Symptoms may cycle between depression and mania a few times per year or much more rapidly,” Halaris said. “This disorder affects about 2 to 3 percent of the population and has one of the highest risks for suicide.” Bipolar disorder has four basic subtypes: bipolar I (characterized by at least one manic episode); bipolar II (characterized by hypomanic episodes — which are milder — along with depression); cyclothymic disorder; and other specified bipolar and related disorder.

People with bipolar disorder are typically treated with drugs called mood stabilizers.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD, is a type of depression that affects women during the second half of their menstrual cycles. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Unlike premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which affects up to 85 percent of women and has milder symptoms, PMDD affects about 5 percent of women and is much more severe.

“PMDD can be severe enough to affect a woman’s relationships and her ability to function normally when symptoms are active,” said Halaris. Treatment may include a combination of depression drugs as well as talk and nutrition therapies.

Also called adjustment disorder, situational depression is triggered by a stressful or life-changing event, such as job loss, the death of a loved one, trauma — even a bad breakup.

Situational depression is about three times more common than major depression, and medications are rarely needed — that’s because it tends to clear up over time once the event has ended. However, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored: Symptoms of situational depression may include excessive sadness, worry, or nervousness, and if they don’t go away, they may become warning signs of major depression.

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