I know, I know, what a hypocrite, right? The man that has proselytized the importance of taking mental health seriously has suddenly flipped on the narrative that granted significance to his writing. I admit, the title was peculiar to get out. But I insist on using the best words to convey what I need to say, and if you will search your heart for an appetite for nuance, I assure you I’ll make good on the title. I understand as much as anyone that has even thought to see a therapist how real depression is. I vividly remember what the textbook image of being cemented into bed looks like from the first person point of view, and still know those fool-proof strategies for functioning so highly that outsiders were aghast at the notion that I struggled with it. But here is what else I do remember; the rest of my life in an objective sense was going just fine. This is not to say that I didn’t have issues to resolve – I absolutely did. But the facets of life that most would agree are necessary for living well were all in place. I did not struggle with finances. My relationship was healthy. I had a steady job with healthcare and a retirement plan. I ate well and stayed in good shape. The question of depression is not an inquiry into how bad your life is going as much as why the good things don’t seem to take root within the psyche. I loathe how we’ve beaten the idea of depression so deeply into itself that the word is devoid of meaning. Because of this, detractors of mental health voices have excellent cause to be critical. Why would they take someone seriously when they can clearly see that their “depression” can be remedied with a hard conversation, a good diet, and a little elbow grease? So before we march on the Red Pill or declare a depressive diagnosis for ourselves, here is what we can take into account first.

The Body and The Mind

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. The body and the mind are not separate. It is a grave fallacy to treat them as such. I frequently advise people that come to me to help them through a dark time that there is nothing more important than maintaining their healthy habits. Of course, this assumes that the depressive claim is legitimate and there were healthy habits in place to begin with. This is a powerful weapon of mental health detractors that chastise the fat and unhealthy for daring to claim they are depressed. But instead of greeting this criticism harshly, it would do well for men to listen. When Andrew Tate responded to a suicidal e-mail with an imperative to train to get a six-pack before considering suicide, the results were not only astounding, but helped him improve quickly. Tate has infamously been one of the most critical voices of men’s mental health causes and is largely written off as toxic by those with established longevity across multiple platforms. Much of the dismissal of Tate as a worthy voice for men is for good reason, but that is hardly the point. How much time will we waste suspending the pragmatism inherent to masculinity for the sake of arguing against a personality we don’t enjoy? Is the premise correct or not? Bad health and depressive symptoms are so deeply intertwined that we flip the cause and effect. But let’s be completely honest with ourselves gentlemen; if we neglect our health and feel depressed shortly thereafter, claiming depression as the cause is a cheap and (ironically) gutless cop-out. This is not because fitness equals happiness, but because happiness is the wrong goal. As Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon, put it, the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.

We have been fed incessant lies about the symptoms of depression at the cost of understanding the cure for depression to begin with. Good health doesn’t cause feelings of happiness. Good health causes feelings of ability. The evolutionary foundations of maintaining good health are much deeper than fitting comfortably into a pant size that doesn’t cause embarrassment. Primitive markers of health conveyed that men could run, fight, hunt, and protect alongside others in their tribe. In modern applications, healthy men can bring in all the groceries, move the heavy furniture, open the new jar, and lift their children above a crowd of standing adults to get a good view of the ballfield with ease. On some level, the men that blame their poor health on depression know this, but the claim of depression is lighter than a dumbbell.

At this point, it is easy to say that men don’t need to be ripped or have a six-pack to do these things, and point out that fitness culture has its own fight with toxicity to sort out. To both of these points, I agree, and draw your attention to athletes like Pat Mahomes who is on track to being a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and does not have a six pack. He has trained for his vocation. That’s the point. For many, your vocation is simply being capable of caring for a family, or being good at your 9-5. Can your body perform or not?

Demons and Consequences Are Not The Same Thing

Social media has come around to the fact that too many men are claiming to be “fighting demons” to feign sympathy when they deserve vitriol. This is a harsh truth men need to confront before claiming they are depressed. The world does not give men sympathy even when they truly are struggling. Discovering skeletons within your own conscience is an even worse time to pretend you and your demons have ever been opponents. A breakup or falling out can certainly cause severe depressive symptoms. But claiming to be depressed when you can’t stomach direct effects of your actions is disingenuous. If you were caught two-timing your girlfriend, you do not get the luxury of consideration while refusing to do the inner work. It’s a good thing to feel deep shame when you know you induced the tears of someone you cared for. You don’t get to make their tears about you.

Within this example lies a pervasive conundrum. There may be deep wounds underneath why your conscience wasn’t strong enough to override selfishness. It is possible for depression to be part of the equation. The problem is when we fail to understand how we satisfy our selfishness on both ends of the spectrum. It is selfishness, regardless of its root, that makes you override your conscience. It is selfishness that demands grace immediately after the strategy of selfishness backfires. Thus, if you feel inclined to talk about the demons you are fighting and call it depression, understand that you are bastardizing the claim for your own sake. It is inherently unmanly to shield himself from the consequences of his actions. It is heinous to do so under the guise of some flawed sense of virtue. Men mistake their longing for freedom and autonomy for selfishness when serving others is the inherent purpose of a man’s existence. The ability to do whatever you want doesn’t come without parameters, paralysis does. True freedom lies within the principles that provide the parameters within which to grow. Within these limits, freedom is not from responsibility, but from the parasitic demons that prey on the conscience. In other words, if you are a man that does not say things that are false or unkind, you can say anything you want. If you do not treat others with dishonesty or malice, you can do anything you want. If you equate freedom with the ability to commit harm without consequence, you do not understand freedom. So before claiming to be depressed, seek out the things you think you got away with. Make the apology you’ve avoided making. Have the hard conversation you know needs to be had. Just as the body cannot endure poor physical health, the soul cannot endure a tumorous conscience.

Let me reiterate, depression is real. I know it well. Thoughts fall back to despair and dying no matter how good things are going. The best and most beautiful of memories only register with lingering melancholy. There is a distinct numbness that precludes positive sensations. It’s maddening. Absolutely maddening. During my depressive episode, I gained a reputation for never giving a bad recommendation. If told you to check out a restaurant, a drink, or a book, it was going to be good. My stamp was gold. Not because I had particularly good taste, but because for anything to register as pleasurable in my mind, it had to be undeniably amazing. The process of finding anything to enjoy was exhausting, but I went through this with much of my life well intact. If we as men keep calling every unpleasant sensation depression, we will get in the way of those of us that truly need it. The suicide numbers aren’t dropping. The arguments over it aren’t ending. We need to clean house and stop ruining the cause for the rest of us via laziness and selfishness. Not because we’re better than anyone, but because we’re better than that.