I recently watched a video of the former boxing Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson admit to a room full of people that he has been struggling with alcohol and drug addiction for most of his adult life. In the video he emotionally revealed that up until 6 days prior to the interview, he had been drinking and drugging almost daily. He felt a strong pull that developed organically, to apologize for his actions and the pain and hurt that he may have caused people. It’s no mystery that Mr. Tyson is a troubled man with a troubled history. He’s dealt with or been involved in horrible things throughout his life. My guess is that there are few people that would make fun of Mr. Tyson for expressing himself so freely and openly. In fact, he has been getting quite a bit of respect from peers and his fans for his willingness to talk with others about the inner turmoil he experiences. I'm not saying that this situation is more important than others because he is a professional athlete. But I do think that it can demonstrate to men and boys that even someone who was once paid to try and hurt other people for a living, has the capacity to feel and it is not an indictment against his "manliness."
Last time we talked a bit about what depression in men looks like (e.g. anger, aggressiveness, heavy or light substance use). But how can men young and old begin to address their feelings in a healthy way? Here are a few tips:
1) Be willing to acknowledge/admit that something is wrong - Part of the process of getting better is being able to verbalize what is impacting us, even if you do not fully understand what emotions you are trying to get across.
2) Learn to expand your emotional vocabulary - Anger is not a "bad" emotion. In fact, anger can be very healthy if expressed appropriately. However, if anger is the "only" emotion you're experiencing, chances are you are going to have a more difficult time connecting with others. For example, if something your significant other said to you earlier in the day "hurt," tell them that rather than stonewalling or lashing out verbally. It is also okay to say that you do not entirely understand your feelings, but that you are working at trying to express them.
3) Be cautious not to tie so much of your self-worth into your career - One of the significant causes of depression in men is unhappiness at work, unemployment, or retirement. One way to potentially overcome being unhappy in your job is developing other aspects of your identity. Is there something you were/are passionate about outside of your career? If you've lost some of your connection to it, try reconnecting with it again. For example, I once worked with an individual who was career military and when his career ended, he was went into a mild depression. Together we explored his interests, things he did in the past or things he wanted to try. He always enjoyed basketball and although he was not physically capable of playing the way he had in the past, he started attending basketball practices with his grandson and eventually became an assistant coach.
4) Try to spend more time focusing on the things you can change rather than the things you can't - Maybe we can't predict the traffic and it can be really frustrating when things are moving slowly. But is getting really angry and honking at people going to make things move faster? Try to listen to a good song instead. Or, perhaps there is a trait about your partner that really irks you. Instead of spending so much emotional energy trying to "teach a dog to quack like a duck," focus on the traits that your partner has that you DO love about him or her.
This list of tips is not exhaustive, nor does it reflect the attitudes of all mental health professionals. I'm also not saying you have to tearfully release all of your deepest secrets and insecurities to the masses. However, sometimes taking the first few steps and reaching out can really go a long way.
*This video was borrowed from The Fight Network page on Youtube. No copyright infringement intended.