In his darkest days, Mark Meier still received a surprising gift every morning. For an instant in the murky transference from sleeping to rousing, the demons were gone.
“There would be maybe a nanosecond when I wouldn’t feel that depression,” Meier said. “It was just the briefest of moments and then, boom! There it was.”
Meier was Up North at a family resort when he read the sad news about actor Robin Williams. Williams was found dead Monday of an apparent suicide at his home in Tiburon, Calif. He was 63.
I hesitated to disrupt Meier’s well-deserved vacation, but I had a hunch he’d want to talk. I can’t write about men and depression without thinking about Meier, a social worker, husband, father of three children and founder of Twin Cities-based Face It Foundation (www.faceitfoundation.org).
Twelve years ago, Meier’s shotgun was poised, but his 9-month-old daughter, Ellie, awoke and started to cry, saving her father’s life.
His nonprofit’s mission is to get other men to do what Meier ultimately did: face their untreated depression head-on and accept that theirs is a chronic, but largely manageable, illness. Meier shares many success stories, which buoy him and keep him focused. But getting most men to act upon his message remains a struggle.
Despite the fact that Williams joins about 70 American men who take their lives every day, leaving behind devastated spouses, children and friends, and despite the fact that about 12 percent of men experience depression over their lifetime, men are far more reticent to seek professional help than are women.
And they are less likely to share their struggles even with close male friends. That’s why Face It has been a godsend for many.
The organization, founded in 2009, offers education, practical tools and, most important, peer support to let men know they are not alone.
“Individual therapy can be effective, if you find a good person and want to do this,” Meier said. “But most men don’t want to go that way. I’ve had more men tell me they don’t want to sit down with a therapist 25 years younger than they are. They won’t rule it out, but it’s like with Alcoholics Anonymous. They say that the only reason that worked is because ‘I talked to people like me.’ ”
Meier was saddened by Williams’ death (“I grew up on ‘Mork and Mindy,’ ”) but he was not surprised.
“At 63, he’s been battling this forever, and sometimes you’re tired of feeling terrible, tired of explaining to people,” Meier said.
“Sometimes when I say I’m not surprised, people think I’m giving up on men. But I’m not giving up. It’s just that, sometimes, the fight becomes bigger than you are. It’s a way out.”
Meier, who in 2011 rode 3,200 miles across the country to raise awareness about men and depression, is all about helping men find a way back in. He appreciates the urgency of his work.
Suicide rates for adults ages 45 to 64 rose 40 percent from 1999 through 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Middle-aged men are particularly vulnerable because they choose the most lethal methods to end their lives.
Many men, Meier said, struggle with aging, or feel shame about their inability to provide in a difficult economy. This was likely true even for Williams, who talked candidly about money issues, and who took on a recent TV role because of the paycheck.
“There’s this notion that ‘I’m not the primary person. I’m not what my father’s generation was.’ It’s this sense that ‘I’ve let people down.’ They’re unable to step back and see that the picture they created was never the right picture to begin with.”
They might bury their pain in sports or work, gambling or alcohol or drugs. Substance abuse can suppress inhibitions and lead to an impulsive act.