News and Updates June 16, 2020

Honoring Men’s Mental Health: Sereno Group Co-Founder Ryan Iwanaga Talks About Depression

I am a man and I live with depression.

I am expressing this publicly for the first time. By sharing this truth, my intention is not so much to find relief from the weight of it, though there is some of that, but instead to share my experience in the hope it might give others, especially men, permission to seek help and work on getting better.

Let me first say that I know living with depression is difficult for anyone regardless of gender. I am not saying that my challenges are greater or more authentic because I am male. The bottom line is that depression is hard for anyone, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, gender, or whatever.

Depression sucks. Period.

What I can tell you is that part of my story has to do with the struggles of being male in a society that celebrates men as symbols of strength, bravery, and courage. The irony, of course, is that I possess all of these traits, but I also deal with feelings of disconnection, distance, and, at times, an overall flatness of experience that is difficult to explain or fully understand.

Let me say now that my life is and has been wonderful. It is by no means perfect and never will be, but I have so many things to be grateful for. I have an amazing and loving wife who is my very best friend, two wonderful kids, an extended family that loves and appreciates me, a group of trusted friends, a challenging but rewarding job and have all the material things I need.

Depression for me isn’t about being ungrateful for the life I have. In fact, part of my struggle has to do with the acknowledgment that I am okay but yet sometimes feel disconnected or unable to find enthusiasm for the things that matter. The distinction between ungratefulness and disconnection is important for anyone trying to understand depression.

No one chooses to be depressed. Being depressed isn’t a conscious decision that someone makes while making coffee one morning. “Starting today, I think I am going to be depressed.” It doesn’t work that way.

Depression is something that just happens. It is often a slow decline that occurs without recognition. And then one day, you realize that you and the world are out of sync and you don’t know why. And it is the not knowing or understanding the why that often leads to more detachment and distance.

Perhaps that is why the most difficult part of my journey was recognizing and admitting to myself that I needed help, that my thoughts and feelings were not okay, and that the guilt I felt for having those feelings was misplaced. The pressure I felt to be a normal, productive, and bulletproof provider for my family, my work, and the world only compounded my feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

Unlike the flu or physical illness, depression’s physical symptoms are less obvious and far more cunning. Depression can manifest itself in different ways for different people: fatigue, sadness, lack of energy and motivation, insomnia, anxiety, unease, fear, the flatness of emotion, a disconnected mind to body.  I have at one time or another felt one of these, some of these, and all of these.

I am lucky. Seeing and feeling my slow decline, my wife, Meena, expressed her concerns and worry to me and began asking questions. I think someplace in my mind, I recognized I wasn’t right, but I either was not willing to ask myself the questions or, because of my mental health, had accepted my condition as fate.

I was able to find help and support through medical professionals as well as make adjustments to my life and daily approach. Although I still find days that are challenging, the acceptance and understanding of this part of my life help me to work in the solution and not live in the problem.

For many years, I was ashamed of acknowledging this part of myself for fear of being perceived as weak, ungrateful, undeserving, and a host of other negative identifiers.  But my biggest fear was that I would be viewed as less than, an incomplete and flawed man in a world that required me to be the best.

Now I know it is important that I acknowledge this as I realize I cannot be one without the other. Although I have tried to separate the two, I now know they are not two mutually exclusive things. One is as much a part of me as the other. More importantly, the two are inseparable and form the essence of who I am.

I know I am a good person and deserving of a good life. It’s something that I have always known, but the fog of depression prevented me from accepting that. I am a work in progress, and this will always be so but I now have the tools and understanding to help manage that progress.

For any of you, regardless of gender, who finds something in my post that resonates or makes you realize you might be depressed, I want you to know there is nothing for you to fear. Help is available.

Be kind to yourself. Focus on the next step. Seek help and support.

You are important. You deserve to feel better. You deserve to live a good life.



Men’s Mental Health Resources to Explore: