Depression Doesn’t Discriminate

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Lorne Jaffe is the face of male depression and an inspirational symbol for men strong enough to get help for their condition.

Jaffe shared his battle with mental health issue during an emotional breakout panel at Saturday’s Dad 2.0 Summit in San Francisco. What began as a clinical assessment of men’s mental health turned into an impromptu therapy session, with laughter, tears and a palpable sense of community – all in about an hour’s time.

Moderator: Katherine Stone (@postpartumprog). Panelists: Dr. Will Courtenay, Lorne Jaffe (@raisingsienna), Sally Spencer-Thomas (@sspencerthomas) and Dr. Craig Garfield

Spencer-Thomas, a mother of three sons and founder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, lost her brother to suicide 10 years ago. She shared her brother’s final months, a loss that led her to create better resources for other men grappling with mental illness.

“Untreated mental health conditions are so incredibly lethal,” Spencer-Thomas says. The matter intensifies when men deal with mental health woes, in no small part due to cultural expectations.

“Surviving a suicidal act is considered ‘unmasculine,’” she says.

Jaffe started by saying he didn’t think anyone would bother coming to the panel, causing the full room of attendees to gently assure him otherwise.

“Depression isn’t just one thing,” Jaffe says, his voice shaky but strong. He recalled developing depression at 9, a situation made worse by family challenges and a stream of negative feedback.

“My dad stopped showing me physical affection at four years old,” he says. More recently, he’s had to deal with his daughter’s confusion after he suffered an emotional episode.

“I say, ‘Daddy has a booboo in his head,’” he says.

The Legacy of Masculine Imagery Endures

Dr. Courtenay says there is a clear link between traditional images of male masculinity and mental health treatment gaps. That doesn’t have to say the same, and in fact there’s real, positive change happening now.

“Masculinity is a living thing. It changes and evolves over time,” Dr. Courtenay says.

“Fatherhood is the biggest thing that’s shifting and changing the way we think about masculinity in general, and you’re on the forefront of that,” he added, referring to the assembled bloggers and fathers.

He also shared a lesser-known issue facing some of those fathers – paternal postnatal depression, or PPND.

One in seven new fathers suffer from it, he says, but those numbers turn to one in four in three to six months after the child is born.

Dr. Garfield, a pediatrician at Northwestern University in Chicago, says he personally experienced the gender inequalities in medical treatment during his time as a stay-at-home father. Since then, he dedicated part of his career to improving men’s mental health. It matters not just to fathers but to the whole family.

“Depressed fathers will use physical punishment more and will be less engaged with their kids,” Dr. Garfield says. “Children of depressed dads will often go on to have depression themselves.”

Depression Doesn’t Just Impact One Person

Stone, who says she suffers from anxiety and OCD, underscored just how tenacious depression can be if left untreated.

“It’s snowballing through every generation,” Stone says.

And with all the talk about improving our current health care system, she says doctors and patients alike should consider the benefits of treating health disorders before they lead to physical ailments.

Spencer-Thomas says medical treatment can be critical to a depressed person’s ability to deal with mental health issues. Yet sometimes all a person needs is a simple, human connection.

“We need a range of support,” Spencer-Thomas says. “Sometimes a call to a friend will do the trick.”

“It’s really important we branch out as men and start to develop our social networks. We have much smaller social networks than women do,” Dr. Courtenay says.

Jaffe agreed, sharing how much such a connection mattered to him during one dark period.Mantherapy.org_300x250_DuctTape

“One dad blogger talked me off the ledge … that’s the support we need and men normally don’t do this,” Jaffe says. “You need to form some sort of community … you are not alone.”

For more resources and information on male mental health issues visit saddaddy.com and mantherapy.org. The latter takes a modern, humorist support that breaks down preconceived notions of masculinity.

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Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist and film critic who covers entertainment at HollywoodInToto.com and fatherhood at Daddylibrium.com. Follow him on Twitter at @daddylibrium.