Abraham Lincoln was just one of many world-changing men who suffered from depression.
According to the NIMH, 6 million men suffer from depression in the US. However, men are less likely to ask for help. Often, men are diagnosed with depression through symptoms such as feeling tired, loss of interest, or physical neck or back pain since emotional symptoms may not be present.
BE A MAN.
Many men do not seek help because they’ve been taught it’s unacceptable to be vulnerable. The ideal behind “be a man” is one who is unemotional, aggressive, and independent or even distant. Dr. Ron Levant describes a condition he calls normative male alexithymia, which means men have repressed their feelings to a degree that they’ve become underdeveloped in emotional expression.
I believe that a mild form of alexithymia is very wide-spread among adult men and that it results from the male emotional socialization ordeal, which requires boys to restrict the expression of their vulnerable and caring emotions and to be emotionally stoic. [Dr. Levant, A New Psychology Of Men, (1995) p.239].
I recently read Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatnessby Joshua Wolf Shenk, and noted while Lincoln suffered from depression, he didn’t allow it to ruin his career. In fact, the book argues he used it to shape him into becoming one of the most successful and radical leaders of the United States.
“He learned how to articulate his suffering, find succor [help and assistance], endure and adapt.”
Men Overcoming Depression: 3 Lessons From Lincoln
He was transparent with his problems:
He was called “Honest Abe” for a reason. We use the term “shady” to describe someone who’s holding something back, but Abraham Lincoln wasn’t afraid of others seeing his emotional weakness. After speaking at a convention one time, Lincoln emphatically told a friend, “I’m not well.” His colleague Henry Whitney stated, “No mark of Mr. Lincoln’s character was so marked, obvious, and ingrained as his mysterious and profound melancholy.”
Key learning: Depression is more common than you believe. There’s no need to feel ashamed. Abraham Lincoln wasn’t afraid to show his frailties and weakness.
He received help:
Lincoln famously said, “I’m a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn’t have the heart to let him down.” Men didn’t avoid Lincoln because of his vulnerability. In fact, they embraced him and helped him along his journey. Consider Joshua Speed who became his roommate for four years when he encountered Lincoln down about not being able to find a living situation. It was noted that when men saw his depression, they said, “That man is a man of sorrow, and I really feel for him, I sympathize with him.” When Joshua offered Lincoln a place in his room, Lincoln picked up his bags and moved upstairs.
Key learnings: People want to be there for you and you aren’t alone. People were drawn to Lincoln because of his transparency and he didn’t avoid their help.
He believed his suffering had purpose:
Lincoln is considered the epitome of the self-made man. Today, we overlook Lincoln’s depression because it’s not his legacy. We consider him to be one of the most revered leaders. He wasn’t defined by his problems, but he allowed them to shape him into becoming a great leader. He didn’t allow short-term obstacles to get in the way of his purpose; a purpose he understood even in childhood. His friend O.H. Browning said, “Even in his early days,” Lincoln “believed that there was a predestined work for him in the world.”
Abraham Lincoln was prepared to put in the work, and you can hear these sentiments echoed in his quote:
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Key learnings: Don’t allow obstacles keep you from your dreams and your calling. Instead, use them to grow your character to prepare for the journey.
Many men have bouts of depression, but it doesn’t have to hold anyone back from achievement. Abraham Lincoln is a great example of a man who overcame personal obstacles to achieve great success, and this is why he is identified as a “self-made man.” If you’re experiencing depression, don’t believe you’re alone and don’t allow shame to keep you from sharing with others.