The Transylvania Times -

By Dr. John Campbell
The Journey Inward 

Some Reflections About Male Depression


Kathy Cronkite, daughter of long time news reporter, Walter Cronkite, in her book, “On the Edge of Darkness,” writes about several notable people who suffer from depression. One of them is former “Sixty Minute” anchorman Mike Wallace, who poignantly describes his journey through depression.

The apparent precipitant was a lawsuit filed by General Westmoreland against “Sixty Minutes” and Wallace for libel in connection with a story about Vietnam. The constant media attention about the case pushed Wallace toward the “edge of darkness.”

As preparation for the trial took place, he gradually experienced more and more distress. At first, he didn’t know why. He thought he was just feeling down. When his distress became more pronounced, he decided to seek consultation from a psychiatrist who told him “you are suffering from clinical depression.”

Though finally glad to have a diagnosis, he was not prepared for the scope and depth of his depression. In Cronkite’s book, Wallace described a discrepancy between the way he wanted people to see him outwardly-a spirited aggressive reporter-and feelings of shameful inferiority inwardly.

During the trial with Westmoreland, he recalls worrying about losing “everything” and life then would be “worthless.” Even though hurting on the inside, he tried to act as if he was still on top of things. He did not want the people at CBS to know about his condition because he feared his apparent incompetence would cause his superiors to replace him.

Courageously, Wallace was willing to describe his journey through depression. His story points to common symptoms of depression: difficulty concentrating and making decisions (Wallace wondered about his competence and judgment at work), persistent sadness (he felt dejected), hopelessness (he would “lose everything”), anxiety (his worries and fears of the future), feelings of worthlessness (If he lost to Westmoreland, life would be worthless).

Although Wallace didn’t mention other common symptoms of depression, he also may have felt fatigue and loss of energy, insomnia, early morning awakening or oversleeping, loss of appetite and shifts in weight, not wanting to live, and various physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment.

His symptoms, however, are recognizable signs of an important underlying issue in male depression: his sense of himself as a man was in jeopardy.

Psychotherapist Terrence Real, in his book, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming The Secret Legacy of Male Depression,” writes that our society rewards self-objectification in men. Scripts laid down in early childhood overly define who a man is supposed to be. For instance: ….“what many of our sons internalize is a pattern in which women and womanish things-including half of the boy’s own being – are held as inferior.” Our society shows little mercy for men who fail to live up to a one-sided image.

“When our culture teaches boys to repudiate the ‘feminine’ in themselves, to hold that part of themselves in contempt, we teach them to split themselves in half…the boy learns to ‘go better’ than himself, to bring the dynamics of contempt into his own psyche,” wrote Real.

Real is suggesting that men become depressed because they were taught as children to hide their pain and grief, as feminine emotions, and follow a course of imperturbable male strength. Going better than the self means to disavow what is: namely, those feelings Mike Wallace referred to as weakness. Self-loathing about having those feelings contributed to his depression

Even though Wallace did not want to take medication, an antidepressant along with psychotherapy over time led to a cessation of symptoms. He recalls what helped him in addition to pharmacology and professional therapy: “If you have a friend who is depressed, be patient. Be patient. Check in. Listen. Listen.”

His reaching out for emotional support was important. His overly determined male scripting gave away as he spoke about his suffering.

“Depression in men is not just a disease; it is the consequence of a wrong turn, a path poorly chosen,” wrote Real.

If men can claim their feminine side, the women in their lives will benefit significantly. Men will be less likely to resort to disruptive rage, medicating through drink and drugs, and backing away from intimacy.

They will be able to support women’s desire for self-fulfillment. While men suffer depression, in part, because of a “split” preventing feelings, women often feel depressed because they feel thwarted as they seek empowerment. If men seek healing they will bring to others a more integrated expression of their humanity.

In his poem “Healing” D.H. Lawrence writes: “I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self, and the wounds to the soul take a long, long, long time, only time can help and patience, and a certain difficult repentance, long difficult repentance, realization, of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.”

The root of the word repentance means “to return.” Men who are willing to return to their boyhood detour which routed them away from themselves are moving toward the “long, difficult repentance” of restoration.

(Dr. John Campbell is a semi-retired citizen of Brevard.)


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