Sex and Depression: A Gender-Specific Approach to Healing

Depression runs in my family. I became aware of that fact when my father took an overdose of sleeping pills when I was five years old. Growing up I had little understanding of what had happened or why he was hospitalized and disappeared from our lives. But I did grow up with a hunger to understand depression and a terror that I would become depressed myself and face my own suicidal demons.

When I was 40 and going through my own bouts of depression, I found a journal my father had written in the year before he was hospitalized and I got a better understanding of his suffering and my own. Here are a few of the entries:

June 4th: 

Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work. Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.

August 15th:

Faster, faster, faster, I walk. I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family. I try, try, try, try, try. I always try and never stop.

November 8th:

A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.

Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.

Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to end his life. Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same. For nearly 40 years I’ve treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced. The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today.

During that period my mother also became depressed, but it was quite different than my father’s experience. Where he was often irritable and angry, she was more often sad and weepy. While he pushed people away who wanted to help him, she drew close to her friends and neighbors. In working with men and women over the years I’ve found other differences in the ways males and females deal with their pain and suffering. Here’s a summary of my experience.

Female: Blames herself; Male: Feels others are to blame

Female: Feels sad, apathetic, and worthless; Male: Feels angry, irritable, and ego-inflated

Female: Feels anxious and scared; Male: Feels suspicious and guarded

Female: Avoids conflict at all costs; Male: Creates conflicts

Female: Tries to be nice; Male: Overtly or covertly hostile

Female: Withdraws when feelings are hurt; Male: Attacks when feelings are hurt

Female: Has trouble respecting self; Male: Demands respect from others