Men’s Health: The Real Reason Men Die Sooner and Live Sicker

The real reason men are lonelyI never realized how lonely life could be until I got divorced.  My wife got custody of the kids and I didn’t realize how much I would miss seeing them every day until I became the “non-custodial parent.”  She also got custody of the house and I moved into my cousin’s garage, which was all I could afford. I soon realized that most of our friends were actually her friends.  The friends I had before we got married had mostly drifted away and I hadn’t made new ones.  My wife had become the social secretary and I counted on her to plan the parties and keep us connected with our family, friends, and neighbors.

She and I had married young.  I was 22 and she was 19.  We had a little boy three years after we married and then adopted a little girl three years later.  My life revolved around my career.  I got good at it and felt proud that I could support our growing family.  My wife and I were happy in those early years and it felt like we were a team.  She managed the home and I brought in the income to buy the things we needed.  I thought I was doing the right thing.  I thought we had it all.  I didn’t think I needed to work to make and keep friends.  I thought I just had to work to keep my wife and kids happy.  It took me a long time to realize how wrong I was.

Psychologist Herb Goldberg captured the reality of men’s health and their men experience in his book, The Hazards of Being Male:  Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege.  “The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power.  He is out of touch with his emotions and his body.  He is playing by the rules of the male game plan, and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

Will Courtney, Ph.D. is one of the world’s experts on men’s health.  In his 2011 book, Dying to Be Men, he details the current research findings that show that men die sooner and live sicker.  “Men in the United States have greater socioeconomic advantages than women,” he says.  “These advantages, which include higher social status and higher-paid jobs, provide men with better access to health-related resources.”  That’s the upside of being male.

But there is also a down side.  “Despite these advantages, men—on average—are at greater risk of serious chronic disease, injury, and death than women.”  For nearly all 15 leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, suicide, and homicide;  men and boys have higher age-adjusted death rates than women and girls.  The only exception is Alzheimer’s disease where women die at higher rates than men.

Over the years I’ve learned the benefits of such things as good nutrition and exercise to helping us live more healthy lives.  I’ve only recently learned about the benefits of social connection.  In their book Loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection researchers John Cacioppo and William Patrick say that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”  Now that surprised me.  I never would have thought that lack of social connections could actually cause serious medical problems.

Studies also demonstrate that men, as a group, have fewer social connections than women.  In workshops over the years I have asked the women in the audience, “how many of you have a number of close friends that you talk to about important things in your life and who you turn to when you are hurting physically or emotionally?”  Most all the women raise their hands.  When I ask the same question of men, very few raise their hands.  Most women have many close friends and confidants among their relatives and friends.  For most men, their only real friend may be their spouse and if there’s trouble in the relationship, they are totally alone.

I learned that, like me, men often have fewer and fewer close friends as we get older.  This may contribute to the fact that the suicide rate for men goes up dramatically as we age.  Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. author of Lonely at the Top:  The High Cost of Men’s Success says, “Men’s main problem is not self-loathing, stupidity, greed, or any of the legions of other things they’re accused of.  The problem, instead is loneliness.”

Joiner notes that with age, men gradually lose contact with friends and family.  “And here’s the important part,” he tells us, “they don’t replenish them.”  Instead of maintaining our friendships and developing new ones when old friends slip away, we look for Band-Aid solutions to cover our loneliness.  Some of us become more workaholic, others escape into alcohol or drugs.  Some have extra-marital affairs.  These pseudo-solutions only serve to increase our loneliness.

Most of us realize that it’s never too late to change our diet or improve our exercise.  Likewise, it’s never too late for us to admit we’re lonely, reach out to others, improve our relationships, and make new friends.  It may be the best health advice we’ll ever receive.  The alternative isn’t pleasant.  A postmortem report on a suicide decedent, a man in his sixties, read, “He did not have friends…He did not feel comfortable with other men…he did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he was aware that he needed help.”

Image Credit

Are You (or are you married to) A Depressed Husband? Maybe It’s IMS – Take the Quiz

Irritable Male SyndromeAfter writing, The Irritable Male Syndrome:  Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I received hundreds of letters from women and men concerned about the impact that irritability and anger were having in their lives.  Many of which are about either being or married to a depressed husband.  This one is typical of the many I received:

“Last month a man came home from work with my husband’s face but he did not act at all like the man I married.  I’ve known this man for 30 years, married 22 of them and have never met this guy before.  Angry, nasty, and cruel are just a few words to describe him.  He used to be the most upbeat, happy person I knew.  Now he’s gone from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  In spite of how he treats me I still love my husband and want to save our marriage.  Please, can you help me?”

We all get irritable and angry at times, but Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS) has deeper roots.   In the book I describe a number of key symptoms of IMS, including hypersensitivity.

The women who live with these men say things like the following:

  • I feel like I have to walk on eggshells when I’m around him.
  • I never know when I’m going to say something that will set him off.
  • He’s like a time bomb ready to explode but I never know when.
  • Nothing I do pleases him.

The men don’t often recognize their own hypersensitivity.  Rather, their perception is that they are fine but everyone else is going out of their way to irritate them.  The guys say things like:

  • Quit bothering me.
  • Leave me alone.
  • No, nothing’s wrong.  I’m fine.
  • Or they don’t say anything.  They increasingly withdraw into a numbing silence.

Does this sound familiar?  If you think someone you love may be suffering from IMS, take this simple quiz to find out.

Think back over the last month.  How often have you (or your man) appeared :

Rarely  (1)        Sometimes  (2)        Often (3)

  1. Grumpy
  2. Jealous
  3. Gloomy
  4. Impatient
  5. Tense
  6. Hostile
  7. Lonely
  8. Stressed out
  9. Annoyed
  10. Touchy

Please add the numbers and compute your score which can range from 10 to 30.

Results:

10-15. This guy is on a pretty even keel.

16-22.  He can be a bear to live with at times.

23-30.  You’ve got a man who suffers from Irritable Male Syndrome which could lead to depression or aggression if not treated.

If you need immediate help please contact me with your specific concerns.  You may also find my books and this blog post valuable:

Jekyll and Hyde, Irritable Males, and Attachment Love: What Men, and the Women Who Love Them, Need to Know

What has been your experience with IMS?  What have you done that has helped?  What questions do you have that we can explore together?

Please share your comments and questions below.

Together we heal.

 

Why Is My Husband Depressed and How Do I Help Him?

What we call depression has likely been around before recorded history and has been recognized for thousands of years.  Aretaeus of Cappadocia (circa 81-138 AD) is credited with the first clinical description of depression.  Hippocrates, the Greek physician of antiquity, was well aware of the disease of depression and called it melancholia.   Whatever we call it, depression is becoming an increasingly significant problem for men and the women who love them.  Women can be frustrated and wonder why is my husband depressed?

It’s often the woman who first recognizes depression in her mate, even when the man doesn’t see it or is resistant to dealing with it.  That was certainly the case for me and my wife.

Getting Through to the Man In Your Life Isn’t Easy

My wife, Carlin, and I walked tentatively into the nicely restored old building to attend the “family weekend.”  Our son had been in treatment for a drug problem and we were there to learn and offer support.  As part of the weekend experience, all the family members were given various questionnaires to fill out.  One was a depression questionnaire.  We dutifully filled it out and my wife scored “high” while I scored “low.”  Carlin talked to a counselor who suggested that she might want to get evaluated for depression when we returned home.

Driving back we talked and it became clear that Carlin had been feeling depressed for some time.  Once home, she saw a doctor, was evaluated, and received treatment.  Her life and mine changed for the better.  It was like she had come out of a fog.  Her joy returned and she became much more fun to be around.

A few months into her treatment, Carlin suggested that I might be depressed as well and wanted me to see her doctor.  I promptly refused.  “I’m not depressed,” I told her.  “If I were I’m sure I’d know it.  I’m a therapist and I treat depression.  I’d certainly recognize it in myself.”  She just gave me a gentle smile.  “OK, it was just a suggestion,” she said.  “Anyway,” I reminded her, “I took the depression quiz at the treatment center and I scored low.”  As far as I was concerned the case was close.

However, there were some disturbing thoughts that would pop into my head.  Although I didn’t see myself as “depressed,” I certainly didn’t feel happy.  It seemed like the stresses of life kept building up until I wanted to scream, “Leave me alone.  I just want some peace!”   I find I was often irritable, angry, preoccupied, and withdrawn.  But that couldn’t be depression, could it?

I convinced myself that my irritability and anger were justified.  “Who wouldn’t be upset with what I have to put up with,” I would call out to anyone who would listen.  “I’m stressed out at work, the kids seem to go out of their way to get on my last remaining nerve, and my wife is going through menopause.”

Carlin received the brunt of my anger, which she fought to deflect. But what did she expect? If she’d just be nicer, more loving, more interested in sex, everything would be okay. It never occurred to me that my constant anger made it nearly impossible for her to be nicer, more loving, or more interested in sex.

More and more often I found I was having fantasies of running away from it all.  I’d see myself getting in my car and just driving into the sunset.  Other times I saw myself with another woman, someone who was kinder and gentler and understood me—someone like Carlin used to be.  Those thoughts excited and scared me.  I knew we couldn’t go on like this, but I had no idea what to do.

Finally, Carlin made the decision for me.  “Look,” she told me directly, “we’re both miserable.  If our marriage is going to survive, you’ve got to see someone.”  Reluctantly, I made an appointment with the doctor she had seen. He did a complete evaluation and I was sure he would say I was a normal guy who had to deal with a lot of stress in his life.  Instead, he told me I was suffering from depression and would benefit from treatment.  I was shocked.  I thanked him and was about to leave when he said something that hit me between the eyes, “You need to be aware, Mr. Diamond, that men often experience depression differently than women, and highly successful and intellectual men, in particular, often deny that they are depressed.”

When I returned home Carlin was anxious to hear the results.  I told her what the doctor had said and she seemed relieved.  I told her I wanted a second opinion.  She blew up.  “You want a second opinion?  I’ll give you a second opinion.  You’re depressed and you need treatment just like I did.  It helped me and it will help you.”  She turned and walked out of the room.

I didn’t want to believe I was depressed.  It just didn’t fit with my view of myself.  And it didn’t fit with what I knew were the symptoms of depression.  My mood wasn’t depressed most of the time.  I hadn’t lost interest in my work or activities I loved.  I slept fine and my energy was OK.  I didn’t feel worthless and I didn’t think of killing myself.

I did decide to see another doctor.  Even though I liked this one much better than the first, she told me essentially the same thing as doctor number one.  She also explained that men who are depressed are often hypersensitive, irritable, and angry.  She gave me a book to read by a world-renowned psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison.  In her book The Unquiet Mind she described depression in a way that cut to my core.  “You’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough.  You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and ‘you’re not at all like yourself but will be soon,’ but you know you won’t.”

She also told me about the work of Dr. Ronald Kessler at Harvard.  Kessler describes depression in men this way. “When you study depression among children, they don’t talk about being sad, they talk about being angry and irritable,” he said. “Children don’t have the cognitive capacity to make sense of all their feelings. There’s a great similarity between children and men. Men get irritable; women get sad.”

I could no longer deny the truth.  I was dealing with depression.  I agreed to begin therapy and get the help I needed, but had been resisting for so long. I found that my life turned around.  I wasn’t so hypersensitive.  Little things didn’t bother me as much.  I wasn’t so reactive and I felt less irritable.  As Carlin described it, “You used to look at me in a way that chilled me.  Your eyes were narrow and beady.  Now when you look at me I feel your love.  It’s wonderful.”

Things have continued to improve for us.  I know there are millions of other men, and husbands, out there who are depressed, but don’t know it.  I developed a questionnaire that seemed to get at the irritability that is at the core of the kind of depression that many men experience.  If there is anyone who would like to take it you can do so at www.IMSquiz.com.   My hope is that it will allow more men like me to get the help they need.  What do you think?  What has been your experience with a depressed husband?  What have you done that helps?

If you found this post helpful you may enjoy this one on The Irritable Male Syndrome.

Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/3549662506/sizes/z/in/photostream/