Young afro-american couple arguing outdoor

Just a Jerk—Or Depressed?

“Why am I such a jerk?” Ryan punched the dashboard of his car in shame, bewilderment and exasperation. He couldn’t believe that he did it again—stormed out of the house after shouting at his wife and leaving his daughter crying. 

“Why do I snap so easily? Why do I repeatedly hurt them like this? What’s wrong with me?”

False Coping Behavior

He drove off down the street to a place that was becoming more and more a familiar hangout—the corner bar. A few beers would take the edge off the guilt and that heavy hopeless feeling that seemed to follow him all the time now. Alcohol calmed the fidgety restlessness. Really, it seemed the only thing that brought some comfort these days. Certainly nothing else brought much pleasure—not his favorite TV shows or biking. Even playing with his toddler daughter was a chore. 

Ryan certainly did not look forward to sleep. He tossed and turned all night. Seeing his friends was no fun; it was too much work to be sociable and he felt like he was a downer. Even food tasted flat; he barely had any appetite. And it did not seem like taste, color or joy would ever come back again.

The alcohol would also help mellow the impatience and irritability that put him constantly on edge. Every little thing seemed to annoy him, if not send him into a rage. People were all too slow, or too demanding, or too controlling or “constantly on my back.” He’s mad at himself too, since he can’t seem to focus and get anything done. 

He could barely hold it together at work. It took all his strength not get too visibly irritated with his boss or his co-workers, or lash out with his tongue. But his family was not so lucky. 

By the time he fought traffic to get home at night, he was a keg of gunpowder. And just about anything his wife or child did was a lit match. Why does his wife always need to talk so much? Is it too much to ask to just keep his favorite salad dressing on hand? And why can’t she get the kid to stop jabbering? Why the hell don’t they just leave him alone? 

Why can’t everyone just leave him alone? Why can’t the whole world just let him… disappear. They’d all be better off without him anyway. He’s disappointing everybody, especially his wife and daughter. 

“I’m such a stupid, worthless jerk,” Ryan tells himself, yet again.

Or Is He Depressed?

The classic picture of clinical depression is one of being teary eyed, dejected and moping around the house. But for some—especially men—the picture can be quite different. 

Depression can mean being always mad rather than sad. The person is grouchy, easily ticked off and prone to aggression. This explains why he may be verbally abusive even with those he loves, and more prone to road rage and picking fights with strangers.

It also may show up as reckless behavior, like driving too fast or acting in a way that risks censure at work. This is the other side of the apathy characteristic of depression: “I don’t care what happens.” 

Irritability, aggressiveness and risk-taking may be an unconscious defense against the hated humiliation of feeling the heavy sorrow of depression that seems so weak and unmanly to some men. Anger energizes and motivates by nature, and can help fend off paralyzing melancholy, at least for a while.   

While this version of the disorder is more mad than sad, both versions share the feeling of being bad. The depressed man will likely have low self esteem and suffer from excessive and irrational guilt and shame. These feelings are aggravated by the man judging himself for his depressive behavior, and others judging him as well. Anger and crankiness do not arouse sympathy in others as the tears and sadness of the other face of depression do.

But like any depression it more than just miserable—it’s dangerous. The desire to end the despair and relieve others of the burden he thinks he is by taking his life can get stronger and stronger, and harder to resist. And men are twice as likely to complete a suicide attempt compared to women. 

This is why it is essential to discern depression in men. It is harder to diagnose without telltale tears.

Signs of Depression

Here are the symptoms of possible depression, significant when lasting more than two weeks:

  • Persistent sad and anxious mood
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Numbness, and feelings of emptiness
  • Loss of interest in what used to be pleasurable activities
  • Oversleeping or insomnia or early-morning wakefulness
  • Chronic tiredness and loss of energy
  • Moving or talking slowly 
  • Restlessness and difficulty to sit still
  • Difficulty with concentration and memory
  • Having a hard time making decisions
  • Changes in appetite and/or significant weight loss or gain
  • Headaches, cramps, digestive problems or other aches and pains with no clear physical cause and/or that persist despite treatment
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, attempts at self-harm

Men are more likely to enter a persistent, clinical depression after a major failure to achieve a goal, an employment setback, a financial crisis or legal problem. Multiple stressful events at once can invite the disorder, as can unprocessed grief. In addition, a prior bout of depression, childhood sexual abuse, or substance abuse issues can increase male risk compared to women. 

There is Hope For Those Struggling With Depression

Depression is common and highly treatable. Effective remedies can include such simple approaches as improved nutrition, increased exercise and sunlight, talk therapy, and medications.

Ryan finally opened up about some of his struggles to a friend at work, who encouraged him to get expert help. “You’re not a jerk, or a bad guy,” he said. “Maybe you’ve got some medical condition, like depression. There are plenty of ways you can get help with that.”

Ryan nodded. “Really?” And he felt a moment of hope for the first time in months.

Written by John R. Williams, MA LMHC for the The Center • A Place of HOPE. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or stress, our team is skilled at navigating these sensitive issues. For more information, call 1-888-747-5592 to speak confidentially with a specialist today.

The Center • A Place of HOPE specializes in the treatment of depression and has been voted a Top 10 U.S. Depressions Treatment Center.  We use a whole-person approach that allows you to discover what is truly going on in your mind, body, and spirit.