The opening line in Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled says “Life is difficult.” The difficulties of life can produce times when we feel sad, irritable, tired, and hopeless. For many, this may result in symptoms associated with depression. The National Institute of Mental Health found that in 2017, seven percent of adults suffered with depression.
Depression is characterized by a persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities causing significant impairment in daily life. Symptoms of persistent sadness, feeling “empty,” hopelessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, impaired sleep, physical aches or pain, and thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts are some of the classic symptoms. Depression is a risk factor for suicide. According to the Office of Minority Health, in 2017, the suicide rate for African American men was more than four times greater than for African American women.
The signs and symptoms of depression in men may present differently, particularly as it relates to physical symptoms, substance use, loss of focus, and anger.
Physical symptoms: Common complaints include stomach problems, headaches, an increase in physical pain, and sexual dysfunction.
Substance use: Can be used as a coping mechanism to “numb” the pain; alcohol is a depressant that can worsen depression.
Loss of focus: Loss of interest in work or activities they once enjoyed.
Anger: Men may manifest hostility and aggressiveness when depressed.
Depression can be caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Depression can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Data compiled by National Alliance on Mental Illness says that people with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population.
Depression may present as mild, moderate, or severe. Treatment options range from psychotherapy to a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
One of the most significant barriers to treatment is the stigma associated with depression and seeking help. Be strong! Don’t cry! Don’t act weak! These are phases that many men have heard over their lifetime. Being depressed is not a character flaw. Seeking help is a sign of strength and courage. It’s the recognition that something is not right and an opportunity to be well emotionally.
If someone you love is showing signs and/or symptoms of depression:
- Offer them support, understanding, and encouragement
- Be patient – a person with depression cannot “snap out of it”
- Listen carefully and talk with them
- Never ignore comments about suicide
- Help them find a health care professional who can assist with their symtoms
- Remind them that with time and treatment, depression will lift
If you are showing signs and/or symptoms of depression:
- Don’t wait! Find a health care professional – a physician or mental health professional who can help
- Increase your physical activity, including exercise
- Be kind to yourself – life is difficult – there are people who can help you through this time
- Keep stable daily routines such as eating and going to bed at the same time every day
- Know that getting treatment sooner rather than later can help to relieve symptoms.
Resources and organizations that can help
Cardinal Innovations Healthcare 24/7 Crisis Assistance: 800-939-5911
Behavioral Health Help Line 24/7 Crisis Assistance: 800-418-2065
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
NAMI Charlotte: www.namicharlotte.org
What is cultural competency?
Cultural competency is when healthcare professionals – mental health clinicians, doctors, nurses and pharmacists across all disciplines – understand the cultural influences that might affect someone’s health outcomes. This includes things like:
- Language barriers
- Stigma around mental health
- The way a specific culture describes or presents symptoms
Sometimes, the way a person describes a symptom can be specific to their culture — which means the provider should be aware of that description. In other cultures, it may be important for someone to consult certain family members before making a medical decision. In other cultures, people may not feel comfortable talking about their medical history. When language barriers are present, translators should be available to help make sure the patient understands what’s being said during an appointment.
Being aware of these situations and being able to ask the right questions to help the patient is an example of cultural competency. When a care provider is more aware of a person’s needs based on their race, ethnicity, religion, health beliefs, and practices, they are better able to treat that individual. In turn, that helps a patient learn to rely on their care provider and make sure they continue getting the care they need to be well.
Hopefully, your care provider has taken advantage of training to increase their own cultural competency. Education can improve providers’ ability to recognize mental health signs, symptoms and barriers that may be unique to the minority groups living in your community.
Sometimes, your care provider could use some help from you. Here are some tips on how to bring your whole authentic self to the next appointment for you or your loved one:
- Share culture and other information that you think is relevant with your provider. It’s important for patients and their families to feel empowered to voice for their own needs while giving their care provider the opportunity to get it right.
- If you feel uncomfortable speaking up when seeking mental health treatment, find a healthcare advocate. This is someone who can help you find a provider known to be sensitive to your cultural needs. If needed, they can also help you get through your appointment. This person should be able to provide examples of people who have received excellent treatment and the positive impact it has made on their physical and mental health.
- Be willing to search for a new provider. When seeking mental health treatment, finding a healthcare professional you trust is vital to meeting treatment goals. If your provider isn’t meeting your needs, seek help elsewhere. The important thing is to keep seeking help when you need it. Don’t give up!
- Use resources to gather knowledge. That can include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health website, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) blog, Mental Health America of Central Carolinas or other similar resources.
Remember, we’re here to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental well-being concerns, you can reach out to our crisis line any time of day or night at 1-800-939-5911.