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Government News
Depression Education Campaign Looks Beyond Machismo
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 9 page 8-17
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A poster from the NIMH campaign "Real Men, Real Depression," featuring firefighter Jimmy Brown.

Jimmy Brown, a firefighter from New York, describes the despair and mental anguish he endured during his recent struggle with major depression. He is one of eight men whose stories of overcoming depression are featured in a new public awareness campaign sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.

NIMH announced its "Real Men, Real Depression" campaign last month at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. NIMH and a documentary filmmaker produced a series of public service announcements that were sent to major television and radio stations and newspapers nationally.

Although women who are depressed are more likely than men to attempt suicide, men who are depressed are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, according to the NIMH.

A common misconception held by the eight men who described their struggles with depression for the NIMH campaign was that the symptoms eventually "disappeared" without treatment.

NIMH Director Thomas Insel, M.D., said at the press briefing, "Men don’t seek treatment for three main reasons. They may not recognize the signs of depression, which include feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless. Their experience of those symptoms interferes with help seeking, and men are concerned that others will view them as weak."

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D., said at the press briefing, "Being a former soldier, paramedic, trauma surgeon, and police officer, I have worked on the edge of life and death. As a paramedic and police officer in particular, I saw that my colleagues struggled but didn’t know where to turn for help because everyone came to them for help. They were viewed as the pillars of their communities and families."

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Some of the men in the NIMH campaign served in the police and military. They said that a major barrier to seeking help was the stigma in their workplaces surrounding having psychological problems.

Brown said that he kept his bouts with depression a secret during his military and police experiences and the first part of his firefighter career. "In the Marines, you don’t want to give anyone a reason to doubt your ability to perform in combat situations."

In the New York Police Department, the stigma was even greater, and "you became the butt of jokes," said Brown.

His coping mechanisms crumbled after nearly being killed by the collapse of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. "I worked at the firehouse across from the World Trade Center, and it was still standing the next day, so I returned to work. I was flooded with daily reminders of the vast destruction and became very anxious and resumed smoking and started drinking more heavily," said Brown.

After the fire department counseling services denied his request for a temporary transfer, he asked for a leave of absence, which was granted. "That was probably the worst thing because I had nothing but time on my hands and fell into a deep depression," said Brown.

"Since the fire department couldn’t help me out, I turned to a police peer-support group I had been involved in when I was a police officer. Through that, I was referred to a clinician and saw him over a few months. I began recovering and was able to return to work," said Brown.

Other men in the campaign ads described how they were affected by depression. One flirted with death by driving recklessly, another became drunk on a regular basis to numb the psychic pain, at least a few considered suicide, and one attempted suicide.

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Shaun Colton, 26, a championship diver and a student from Clarion, Pa., told Psychiatric News at the National Press Club event that he attempted suicide when he was attending college in Houston. "I stopped feeling happy and had no desire to do anything. I felt like I was sleepwalking through my day."

Colton continued, "I realized something had to change. So, one evening, I decided I wanted to end it and attempted suicide. I was hospitalized and released that night when I promised the staff I would get help the next day."

It took a while because his student health insurance did not cover care from psychiatrists, and primary care physicians in his plan were concerned that he was a liability risk and refused to treat him, said Colton. He finally received affordable help at a public mental health clinic.

"The reason I am doing this campaign is to urge others to take the initiative and not to wait until it captures you like it did me," he said.

Carmona added, "Today, we are saying to men it’s all right to talk to someone about your thoughts and feelings or say that you’re hurting. Real men also need to be role models for their children. I have two sons, and they look to me not only for words but actions. When men step forward and get help for depression, they are making it easier for the next generation of men to not have to suffer in silence."

Information about the NIMH Real Men, Real Depression campaign is available on the Web at www.nimh.nih.gov or by phone at (866) 227-6464.

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A poster from the NIMH campaign "Real Men, Real Depression," featuring firefighter Jimmy Brown.

Jimmy Brown, a firefighter from New York, describes the despair and mental anguish he endured during his recent struggle with major depression. He is one of eight men whose stories of overcoming depression are featured in a new public awareness campaign sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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