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My advice to men out there who may be silently struggling boils down to this: getting better doesn’t happen by itself, and it sure isn’t a DIY project.

About Jean-François Claude

Communications professional and married father of two pre-teens. Mental health public speaker and founder of The Men’s D.epression E.ducation N.etwork (TheMensDEN.ca). Initiator of the first Men’s Mental Health Awareness Day in Canada, now held annually on the Tuesday preceding Father’s Day. Recently ranked #5 in Onalytica’s Top 100 Mental Health Influencers on Twitter, where you can follow me as @DysthymicDad.

Jean-François’s Story

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What was the major turning point in your recovery from depression?

I have been struggling with Persistent Depressive Disorder (dysthymia) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder since my mid-teens. But here’s the kicker: for the better part of my life, I didn’t know I was living with comorbid chronic mental health conditions. A high performing, high functioning, university-educated successful professional is how I would have described myself, albeit one with a perfectionist streak and a generally pessimistic outlook.

Given these outward indicators of success in spite of living with mental illness, I’d have to say the major turning point for me was when my innate coping skills finally failed me, and led to a major breakdown in June 2012, at the age of 40. For someone whose whole identity was wrapped up in his work, to be told that I’d be immediately off work for the foreseeable future because of a major depressive episode was, to say the least, quite the shock to my system.

Given the underlying dysthymia, it turns out I experienced a double depression. I was completely ignorant of, not only mental illness in general, but also a family history of anxiety and depression going back at least two generations. So the breakthrough came when my family history came to light. That’s when I really started accepting my diagnoses, and moving forward with treatment.

What are some things that really helped?

Medication

  • At first, I resisted going on medication. For no good reason other than I equated anti-depressants with ‘crazy pills’. Yes, the stigma was alive and well in me. But I went on medication when I found out about my family history, and within a matter of weeks I was already starting to feel better, to feel what I can only suppose others would say, ‘normal’.

Talk Therapy

  • Talk therapy was particular useful in that, upon getting confirmation that I was managing chronic anxiety and depression most of my life, everything started making sense to me. I could pinpoint other major depressive episodes I’d lived through, going back to high school where, my nickname was ‘Mr. Mood’.

Mindfulness

  • Mindfulness was recommended to me by both my family doctor and counsellor, I signed up, reluctantly, for an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. I say reluctantly, because of preconceived notions. I just didn’t see myself as the Zen Buddhist, Sandal-Clad, Toga-Wearing, Granola-Eating type who could become One with the Universe through meditation. But of course mindfulness turned out to be nothing of the sort, and although it is a challenge to maintain formal practice, the tools I learned through MBSR have helped me better manage my anxiety by bringing me back to the present moment.

What advice would you give to other guys fighting depression?

My advice to men out there who may be silently struggling boils down to this: getting better doesn’t happen by itself, and it sure isn’t a DIY project. Like that ongoing home reno project taken on by the less- than-handy man, at some point you know you’ll end up calling in a professional to fix up your mess… so really, what purpose does waiting serve? It only comes at a greater expense to you and your loved ones.

Learn the signs and symptoms of depression, so that when the warning lights start going off on your dashboard, you know it’s time to head to the shop.

– Jean-François Claude, communications professional, mental health speaker and advocate based out of Ontario, Canada twitter