Q. In the last year my husband has become irritable over minor things. He’s critical and blaming toward me and the kids. He blows up when driving in traffic, almost to the point of “road rage.” He also is working long hours and seems indifferent toward me and toward other members of the family. I’ve tried to talk with him about what’s bothering him but he gets angry about my attempts to understand or help him. My Mom thinks he’s depressed, but if so it sure is disguised. What do you think is the problem? And what can I do to help him?
Depression in Men is Disguised
Your husband may be depressed. Depression in men is often masked or hidden. Typically someone who is depressed shows this with sadness, tearfulness, fatigue, loss of energy, and feelings of worthlessness. However, these are not necessarily the symptoms of depression in men. Male depression is often not recognized because it is revealed in behavior rather than in feelings; depression in men is disguised. This stems from the fact that boys are wired and raised to “be strong,” to not be “sissies” who cry. Since boys learn to avoid their feelings from a young age, when they become depressed they express this through their behavior. The feelings are there but they’re buried and avoided. It’s manly to get angry.
Depression Due to Loss
Loss is often the triggering factor in depression. Has your husband faced any major losses in the last few years? The loss of a parent or sibling through death or the loss of a job, an economic loss or a denied promotion can be a cause of hidden depression in men.
Depression Due to A Mid-Life Crisis
Many men go through a mid-life crisis which can be a form of depression. They feel disappointed by life and begin to wonder, “Is this all there is?” They may be unhappy or disappointed about many areas of their life. They may feel empty inside, with a spiritual hunger for life to have more meaning.
Depression in men can be disguised in a number of ways. The anger and irritability you describe is often one of the common symptoms. Workaholism is another. Work stress can cause depression, but work can also be used as a way to cover up depression. The more depressed a man becomes the more he may throw himself into his work in order to numb his feelings.
The depressed man may also pull away from all close relationships. Since he wants to avoid feeling his inner sadness he also avoids all other feelings. He becomes cold and distant. Dr. Archibald D. Hart, in Christian Counseling Connection, says that after the male distances himself from others he searches for outward reasons for his withdrawal. This can result in a great deal of fault finding and blaming of his family. Hart goes on to say, “I wonder how many divorces are the result of unrecognized male depression.”
Helping Your Depressed Husband
What can you do to help your husband?
1. Gently insist that he talk about what’s bothering him. If you can pinpoint a major recent loss in his life encourage him to talk about the loss. For example, if he lost his father, encourage him to talk with you about his relationship with his father.
2. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt. Encourage him to continue talking by nodding your head or waiting for him to continue. Ask, “Is there more about that?” Be accepting of whatever he says is bothering him. Don’t argue or question at this point.
3. Urge him to face any problems he has revealed or that you know about.
4. Counseling and/or medication may be needed and can be very helpful. If he’s feeling life is meaningless, a talk with your pastor can help.
5. Reading Men in Midlife Crisis by Jim Conway may give you further help.
“He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” Psalm 91:15 NIV