Depression is one of the biggest problems for men beyond 50. We all feel low sometimes, but depression is long-term – I’ve met many mature men who have been depressed for years, often on antidepressants continually, and are resigned to living in semi-gloom indefinitely.

How would you know if you’re depressed? Typical symptoms are self-dislike, lack of motivation, being preoccupied with negative thoughts and feelings about yourself and the world, loss of energy, sleeping poorly, pessimism, lack of interest in other people and life in general.

Since depression is a widespread problem, it’s understandable that there are large numbers of techniques, medications and therapies which claim to clear it, and many of these contradict each other. Doing a web search on this topic is enough to leave anyone depressed. I’ve based this section on a method called Human Givens, which I and other men I know have used successfully: see more in Resources.

There’s a wide range of methods which have worked for some men, so I’m not suggesting Human Givens is the only way to go. Ask your own contacts what has worked for them. When you feel depressed, it’s hard to believe things could ever be better, hard to find energy to take an initiative. Whatever you try, believe you can get over depression, you don’t have to go on like this. The best approaches combine some self-help with professional support.

Typical causes of depression are feelings of anger, guilt, or anxiety. Often one event starts it, but we generalise to believe we are worthless/the world hates us/life is dangerous, and so on. It may help you to realise that depression is not a biological illness that you catch, nor is it genetic, inherited from parents. It’s about your responses, which can be changed.

For help in diagnosing and treating depression, through Human Givens or other methods, see Resources. Here’s a summary of main elements in the Human Givens approach:

  • Relaxation: Depression is a vicious circle – you feel stressed and anxious, so you can’t sleep well, which makes you more stressed and anxious… There are simple breathing and other relaxation methods which can change this pattern, and help you feel calmer and see things in perspective.
  • Understand your needs: The term Human Givens means basic needs we must meet to feel happy. Knowing and naming your needs is a first step to meeting them.
  • Take small practical steps forward: If you’re depressed, there’s not much point setting huge goals like stopping smoking or learning the violin. Better to set a few small, realistic goals and build up your confidence from there.
  • Reframe negative beliefs: Depressed people generalise any negative event into a universal negative belief, such as ‘nobody likes me’. There are methods to change this self-destructive habit.
  • Laughter is a great healer: Simple as that!
  • Visualise success: Instead of being anxious and pessimistic about a future event, like a blind date, this method of picturing a future event positively can help to make it happen that way.
  • Take physical exercise: Research shows that exercise and daylight help to reduce depression, but choose a form of exercise you enjoy.
  • Diet and vitamins can help: Some kinds of food and drink (especially alcohol) can increase depression, others can reduce it. There are also several vitamins, such as Omega-3 fish oils, which have been proven helpful. For more on this, see the Patrick Holford book in Resources.

As you start to gain confidence and momentum in your recovery, you may find material in other chapters helpful, for example on relationship skills (Chapter 3), new approaches to work and money (Chapter 4) and finding new social skills and friends (Chapter 9).

This is an excerpt from Alan’s forthcoming book: if you would like to receive further excerpts and information about the book, sign up to this blog.