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Breaking the silence about depression among men

Patient advocate Mark Meier understands first-hand the difficulties of living with depression: After years of ignoring his illness, he hit rock bottom in his thirties and came close to attempting suicide. Almost a decade after surviving that incident and getting help, Meier started the Face It Foundation; this weekend, the Minnesota father of three will kick off from Stanford a cross-country bike ride to raise awareness of depression among men.

Meier came to Palo Alto to meet researchers and learn more about the Stanford Mood Disorders Center (.pdf), where more than 150 research projects on depression and other illnesses are under way. Before he arrived, I talked with him briefly about his life and advocacy work.

Can you talk a bit about why - even after your diagnosis in college - you chose to ignore the problem and not get help?

It was shame, embarrassment. My oldest brother has bipolar disease. I watched for a number of years all the things that were associated with this disease and what that did to my parents and to my family. For me to admit I was suffering from depression was shameful and embarrassing to me.

I was also a hockey player and a "guy’s guy.”

Do you think part of the problem is that men historically haven’t been encouraged to talk about their feelings?

I think it’s a combination of things. I think most men don’t even know what their feelings are... A lot of men don’t even recognize that they’re depressed. For a lot of guys, the stigma [of depression] is alive - and unfortunately, the belief that it’s a women’s issue, not a men’s issue, gets in the way of people getting help.

Men are socialized to stuff their feelings, to get over it... But this idea that you can just get over depression is ridiculous.

How did you come to start a foundation?

When I started getting better - I wasn't much of a functioning adult until 2002 - it popped into my head... The catalyst was my passion for the issue and my wife’s support.

We want to educate about what depression is. My primary goal is to bring to life an online management tool - an interactive way to connect men with other men with depression. Our goal is to have a beta version in Fall 2012.

What made you decide to launch the cross-country bicycle ride?

It was an opportunity to get out and see what’s going on, to talk about depression from coast to coast, and to find and partner with organizations that are doing good work.

You don’t hear much about innovations in the management of mental health. It doesn’t get the attention that it needs, and it doesn’t get talked about in popular media enough. We thought this would be one way to draw attention to the issue.

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