Both men and woman experience and manage depression in different ways. In the American Culture, and others, men are discouraged to display emotions that don’t feed into dominance. I had the opportunity to discuss with Cole Retkins, a previously suicidal student, the social ideals of masculinity and how it has affected his depression.
So, who are you Cole? I mean I know, but the people don’t.
Whats up, I’m Cole Retkins, 20 years old. I spent 9 months of my life in rehab for suicide attempts and cutting. I’m clean now and have gotten all the help I needed with a fresh mind. I’m studying fashion design at Otis… I don’t really know what else to say about myself.
Can you start by describing your background growing up as a male afraid to express emotions?
Well, my dad is the typical father figure who believes men are made to dominate. We would play baseball when I was a kid, and he would make remarks such as You throw like a girl. Don’t be such a baby. Don’t cry like a girl! Even if he meant no harm to me, being the sensitive boy I was, this was taken personally. The only time I had been gently listened to and comforted was by my mother or a woman. When feelings are dismissed by a father figure, at a young age you learn to suppress these feelings due to gender-defined thinking. I had bottled up any sadness for years.
You and your dad played baseball, has sports always been something you’re into?
*laughs” Hell no, I’m not into sports. I’m an artist and fashion designer. I’ve never been that masculine boy that my father wanted me to be, but it’s cool because I’m happy with who I am.
How do you think gender-defined thinking has affected your depression?
I mean, I can’t blame my depression on being a male, that would be nice. But I can say that men don’t have the freedom to express their feelings as women do, which can eventually lead to depression. The negative stigma we put on men crying or feeling heartbreak, seems like the worst thing you can call a man. It’s like a slap to the ego.
Any series on Netflix you recommend?
I am really about to recommend Thirteen Reasons Why. If you’ve come from a background similar as me, it’s relatable and empowering. I also watch random shows like Chopped, oh and I found this one cooking show where everything is Marijuana infused (edibles).
An edible cooking show? No way. Please try to remember the name for us.
I don’t remember at all. I’m sure just look it up and you’ll find it.
As a man, how do you cope with depression that you think may be differently than a woman?
Well, like I said, I feel that a woman can ask for help or go cry to someone without the possibility of getting ignored. We allow women to be emotional. As a dude, I experienced erectile dysfunction which made me feel more un-manly. I medicated with street drugs and alcohol, because they made me look tough. I would rage and throw things, because it was acceptable as a man. Even if I was really sad, I would turn that emotion into anger because I felt I could express that. For the most part, I shut all feelings down and pretended they didn’t exist. I’ve heard of men who over-work as an attempt to bring attention outwards rather than internally.
Bad habit you can’t kick?
Oh god… fast food. Usually when I get emotional I just binge on fries because it makes me happy for a minute.
Alright, favorite binge food?
Everything in my sight. Simple answer.
How do you think gender-defined thinking affects men who are suicidal and need serious help?
Men already have difficulty expressing emotions and making themselves vulnerable. Being a man, and admitting you need help feels like you’re failing the species. Men are actually more susceptible to suicidal thoughts and being successful with attempts. When I was in that position, I would seriously have rather committed suicide silently than put my pride aside and ask for help. From a social standpoint, a woman asking for help isn’t a shot to the ego and is accepted. It almost feels like people don’t believe us when we say we are depressed and need help. Peers will be like Come on, man up. You’re fine. Imagine if you said that to a female. I remember I cried in front of one of my good girl friends, and I was like Yo, can you promise not to tell anyone about this.
How do you think we could change our view towards men with depression?
We need to get it through our heads that depression is not gender-induced. Neither of us choose to be depressed. We need to normalize comfortable spaces where men can express themselves without being told they’re on their period or something. Really, when a man comes to you about his feelings, treat him how you would treat a female. He’s not going to admit he wants sympathy and comfort, but he does. As any human would. Normalize asking men how they feel and if they need help.
How you feeling through this interview?
I’m all good. It’s like I’m getting recognized for ranting, this is fun.
What would you like to say to any #sadboys?
Being emotional is not girly, or “womanly”. It’s human. As boys, we are trained to be confident, strong, and successful. Women are brought up to be emotional, weak, and sensitive. Both men and woman can be both of these things. It’s 2019. Women are strong and successful. Men have emotions, are sensitive, and care. As a dude, I embrace my emotions. It is not weak to ask for help – it is weak to remain in misery because you have to look manly.
Photography by Stephani Bonnefoy