When “Ted” (not his real name), who ranches in Southern Alberta, was in his early 50s, he was “feeling cornered” by external circumstances of all kinds. He couldn't make a decision about the ranch. He said if he had two things to do on a given day, he couldn't figure out which to do first.

He started feeling paranoid, as though the government, the oil companies with leases on his land, even the feed salesman, were out to get him.

Ted went on an “SSRI” (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor — a new family of anti-depressants that includes Prozac and Zoloft) and said he felt mentally sharper than he had in years. I have several other friends my age who also went on anti-depressants for a year or two in their early 50s, and found it very helpful.

When I was in the midst of andropause (often incorrectly called “male menopause”) a few years ago, I went through about five years of mild depression, too. I didn't realize what it was at first. I thought I was just feeling kind of punk, was more irritable than I used to be and had lost interest in my favorite activities.

I thought if I could find a new passion, I would feel fine. My wife Elizabeth, who is a psychologist, helped me identify it as mild depression. I've since discovered depression is common among middle-age men, and it can have serious consequences.

Robert Goldney of Adelaide University is an international expert on suicide. In his private practice as a psychiatrist, he treats plenty of middle-age men.

“It may sound simplistic, crass even,” he says, “but this is the reality of it — depression, depression, depression. If you could get rid of all depression, you could eliminate 50% of suicides,” he says.

Goldney says part of the problem is that men, ages 25 to 65, generally don't talk about their depression. They don't turn to a doctor or a counselor for help. “In some ways, depression is not in the vocabulary of these men,” he says.

I didn't want to go on an anti-depressant; I felt what I was going through a normal part of life and it would pass. Eventually it did, and I'm still not sure whether an anti-depressant would have been a better choice than “toughing it out.” Had I been seriously depressed (as in when you can barely get out of bed in the morning), I would definitely have gone on a medication.

Statistics say women are twice as likely as men to suffer from depression. That may not be true, as men are much harder to diagnose. Women tend to look inward when something is wrong (“what could be wrong with me?”), while men tend to look outward (“what is wrong with my wife, the neighbors, the government, the world…?”).

Diagnosing depression

Because of that common attitude by men, I've read it can take up to three different doctors and 10 years for a depressed man to be properly diagnosed. Men often deny depression is possible (many men see depression as a sign of weakness), and believe things would improve if other people in their lives just treated them “right.”

If you're worried about being depressed, here are typical symptoms:

  • A depressed mood for most of the day, every day.

  • Mood swings — one minute high, next minute low.

  • Lack of energy, loss of interest in life.

  • Irritability and restlessness.

  • Disturbed sleep patterns — sleeping too much or too little.

  • Significant weight loss or gain.

  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt.

  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking clearly.

  • Loss of sex drive.

  • Thoughts about death or suicide.

If you discover you're depressed, see your doctor. Keep your wife in the loop about how you are feeling, too. It can make a big difference in your relationship.

Edmonton-based Noel McNaughton speaks at meetings and conventions on “Farming/Ranching at Midlife — Strategies for a Successful Second Age.” To learn more, call 780/432-5492, e-mail farm@midlife-men.com, or visit www.midlife-men.com.