I had a hunch my then-boyfriend was depressed, but I didn’t think it was anything too serious. I wasn’t concerned when he didn’t pick his motorbike up from the repair shop or when the garage filled up with unused bikes. I just assumed he was taking a break from the things he loved. A three-year break.
Throughout this period, he refused to discuss his mental health. He thought my years of therapy were a waste of breath. “All that talking!” he’d say. “I have a good therapy: zip it and figure it out yourself.”
Five years later, I fell in love with someone else, and while he also struggles with depression, he is a bit more open about it. Still, I often find myself uncertain about how to offer support.
More on Broadview: Why it’s so hard to find affordable mental health care
I’m not the only woman wondering how to support a male partner as he lives with depression. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, our country is facing a “silent crisis” of men’s mental health. Recent research from McGill University’s department of psychiatry showed that men account for 75 percent of suicides related to mood disorders, for example.
Despite growing awareness of this issue, our current approach to men’s mental health care might be all wrong. Men significantly underuse the mental health services available to them — only 30 percent of depressed males engage with common forms of treatment such as talk-based therapy.
“Talk may be alienating for men,” says Rob Whitley, who studies the topic at McGill. He adds that men often find activities such as exercise and repairing and making things to be “more beneficial than face-to-face therapy — men are less likely to want advice.”
Whitley argues that stereotypes about men bottling up feelings and being bad communicators amount to victim-blaming in the context of male depression. He points to a new “men’s sheds” movement, which is creating community workshops for men to build things, as a better approach to men’s mental health care than talk therapy.
This all strikes me as true in my current partner’s case. We went to couple’s therapy for a time; I loved it, but he said it wasn’t helpful. What worked for me, sharing my experiences with someone and looking for advice, wasn’t useful for him. Instead, he likes to enter his “man cave,” usually to fix bikes or make music. When he emerges a day or two later, he seems energetic, refreshed.
Now, I’m trying not to force so many discussions with my partner about what he’s feeling and his struggles with depression. Instead of talking, he needs time alone to do the things that reinvigorate him.
I’m learning to shift the conversation away from what I can do to make him happy, which is impossible, to what he can do to make himself happy.
Melanie Chambers is a writer in Toronto focusing on travel, cycling and food.
I hope you found this Broadview article engaging. The magazine and its forerunners have been publishing continuously since 1829. We face a crisis today like no other in our 191-year history and we need your help. Would you consider a one-time gift to see us through this emergency?
We’re working hard to keep producing the print and digital versions of Broadview. We’ve adjusted our editorial plans to focus on coverage of the social, ethical and spiritual elements of the pandemic. But we can only deliver Broadview’s award-winning journalism if we can pay our bills. A single tax-receiptable gift right now is literally a lifeline.
Things will get better — we’ve overcome adversity before. But until then, we really need your help. No matter how large or small, I’m extremely grateful for your support.