Depression in women is significantly more likely to be diagnosed than is depression in men. And yet, statistics indicate that more than 30% of men experience depression in their lifetimes. Moreover, they are four times more likely than women to die by suicide. So why does depression in men continue to get overlooked?
Why Do Many Men Ignore Symptoms of Depression?
Societal influences continue to shape the way that each individual responds to emotions, illness, and challenges in life
In other words, many men have internalized the message that they need to toughen up and therefore end up ignoring symptoms of depression.
Despite decreased stigma, men are often still taught messages such as “boys don’t cry” or “you have to be strong.” As a result, they shut out their emotions. It’s not intentional; it’s ingrained.
Moreover, this tends to result in depression manifesting differently in men than in women. A man may mistakenly believe that “sadness” or crying is the hallmark of depression. Since they don’t feel sad, they don’t recognize that they have depression. However, there are many other depression symptoms.
Recognizing Signs of Depression in Men
Major depressive disorder is characterized by having either a depressed mood or a loss of interest in things that previously interested you. So a man might not feel “sad” but may have lost interest in old hobbies, his work, or even in sex.
While that primary symptom of depression holds true for both men and women, men do tend to experience depression differently. The three most common signs and symptoms of depression in men (that may or may not be true for women) are:
- Anger and irritability ranging from snapping at their partners to becoming violent with strangers.
- Reckless behavior including drug and alcohol misuse (often used to cover up emotional pain) as well as reckless driving, impulsive spending, playing high-adrenaline sports without the right safety equipment and engaging in unprotected sex. Oftentimes reckless behavior is a sign of bipolar depression but it can manifest in men with unipolar depression as well.
- Symptoms of physical pain including headaches, back pain, stomach issues, and sexual dysfunction. In particular, men who don’t feel comfortable dealing with their emotions may primarily experience physical symptoms of depression.
Therefore, if you’re concerned that you or a male in your life might have depression, look for those three signs as a starting point. Other signs of depression in men (and women) include:
- Changes in eating patterns and weight gain or loss
- Difficulty focusing, concentrating, or remembering things
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (difficulty sleeping)
- Restlessness and/or anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
Causes of Depression in Men
There isn’t usually one clear cause of depression. However, certain things often play a role. And there are specific triggers or risk factors that are common causes of depression in men. These include:
- Family history of mental health issues
- Loneliness, isolation, lack of support
- Other illness such as diabetes or heart disease can be correlated with depression in men
- Personal history of alcohol / drug misuse
- Stressors such as job loss, grief, and problems at work or in relationships
- Unprocessed childhood trauma
Dealing with Male Depression
Once you recognize the signs and symptoms, what should you do to treat depression? As a male with those symptoms, you can begin with a few small changes at home, but you might also benefit from seeking professional help.
How to Help Yourself Today
Here are some of the things that you might try to help you overcome feelings of depression:
- Begin to open up. Your family and friends want to help you. It can be challenging to talk about what’s going on with you. However, if you’re able to discuss it, you may find that relying on them helps alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.
- Get physical. Physical exercise helps reduce depression. Walk, jog, play basketball, or ride a bicycle. Try to stay focused on your body in the present moment.
- Reduce your use of alcohol, drugs and even caffeine and sugar. In particular, drugs and alcohol may make you feel better in the moment (because they numb you) but ultimately worsen depression.
- Stick to a routine. You might not want to get out of bed, take a shower, do a chore … but if you can set and stick to a simple routine then it’ll be a little bit easier.
Professional Help for Male Depression
It’s important to understand that there are different types of therapy. Men with depression may not feel comfortable sitting and talking about their feelings in a straightforward manner. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a form of therapy that can help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, drama therapy, somatic therapy, interpersonal therapy, and EMDR are just a few examples of different types of therapy that men might explore if traditional talk therapy doesn’t feel like the right fit.
Men with depression may or may not choose to take antidepressant medication. There are different types of medication to treat different types of depression. It typically works best in conjunction with therapy. However, you can go to your general practitioner and discuss depression medication treatment with them as a starting point. The most important thing is to start somewhere.