Men often believe that they have to be strong and in control of their emotions at all times. When men feel hopeless, helpless or overwhelmed, they tend to deny or cover up their feelings by drinking too much, behaving recklessly, or exploding with anger. Depression in men is a common condition. The first step to recovery is to understand there’s no reason to feel ashamed. Men can then face the challenge head on and begin working to feel better.
Depression is not a sign of emotional weakness or lack of masculinity. It is a treatable health condition that affects millions of men of all ages and backgrounds. It also affects spouses, partners, friends and family. If left untreated, depression can also lead to heart disease and other serious medical problems. It is normal for anyone to feel down from time to time - dips in mood can be a normal reaction to losses, setbacks, and disappointments in life. However, if intense feelings of despair and hopelessness take hold and interfere with work, family and the ability to enjoy life, depression may be the cause. Unfortunately, depression in men can often be overlooked as many men find it difficult to talk about feelings. Instead, men tend to focus on the physical symptoms that often accompany depression, such as back pain, headaches, or difficulty sleeping. This can result in underlying depression being left untreated which can have serious consequences. In fact, men suffering from depression are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. It is important for any man to seek help with depression before feelings of despair become feelings of suicide. Once correctly diagnosed, there is plenty men can do to successfully treat and manage depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men
Men can experience depression in different ways than women. Men may develop some of the standard symptoms of depression and become sad and withdrawn, losing interest in friends and activities he used to enjoy. Or he may become more irritable and aggressive, compulsively working, drinking more than normal, and engaging in high risk activities. Unfortunately, men are far less adept at recognizing their symptoms than women. A man is more likely to deny his feelings, hide them from himself and others, or try to mask them with other behaviors.
The three most common signs of depression in men are:
- Physical Pain - Sometimes depression in men shows up as physical symptoms such as backache, frequent headaches, sleep problems, or digestive disorders that don’t respond to normal treatment.
- Anger - This could range from irritability, sensitivity to criticism, or a loss of a sense of humor to road rage, a short temper, or even violence. Some men become controlling or even verbally or physically abusive to wives, children, or other loved ones.
- Reckless Behavior - A man suffering from depression may start exhibiting escapist or risky behavior. This could mean pursuing dangerous sports, driving recklessly, or engaging in unsafe sex. He might drink too much, abuse drugs, or gamble compulsively.
Triggers for Depression There is no single cause of depression in men. Biological, psychological, and social factors all play a part, as do lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills. Stressful life events or anything that can make someone feel useless, helpless, alone, profoundly sad, or overwhelmed by stress can also trigger depression in men. These could include:
- Overwhelming stress at work, school or home.
- Marital or relationship problems.
- Not achieving important goals.
- Losing or changing a job; embarking on military service.
- Constant money problems.
- Health problems such as chronic illness, injury, disability.
- Recently quitting smoking.
- Death of a loved one.
- Family responsibilities such as caring for children, spouse, or aging parents.
- Retirement; loss of independence.
Treating Depression in Men
Don’t try to tough it out. It takes courage to seek help. Most men with depression do respond well to treatments such as lifestyle changes, social support, therapy or medication - or a combination of treatments.
The first step is to talk with a doctor. Men should be open with how they are feeling as well as the physical symptoms they may be experiencing so an accurate diagnosis can be made.
- Therapy - Talking to a stranger about problems may seem “unmanly” or that therapy carries with it a victim status. However, if therapy is available, it can be an extremely effective treatment for depression. Opening up to a therapist can often bring a sense of relief, even to the most skeptical male. The simple act of talking to someone face-to-face can be an enormous help.
- Exercise Regularly - Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight depression in men. Not only does it boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals, it can trigger the growth of new brain cells and connections, just as antidepressants do. It also boosts self-esteem and helps to improve sleep. For maximum results aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days.
- Eat Well - Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help keep energy up and minimize mood swings.
- Get Enough Sleep - Sleep deprivation exacerbates anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
- Reduce Stress - Changes should be made to help manage and reduce stress. Too much stress exacerbates depression and can be a risk for future depression. Set realistic goals and break them down into manageable tasks. Figure out the things that create stress such as work overload or unsupportive relationships and make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.
- Medication - Some men will need the help of medication. Antidepressant medication may help relieve some symptoms of depression, but it may not cure the underlying problem. Medication can also come with side effects, so it is important to work with a trusted doctor who has experience in treating depression.
What If Someone Is In Crisis?
Men with depression are at risk for suicide. If someone is suicidal, it is imperative to get help quickly.
- Call the doctor.
- Call 911 for emergency services.
- Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
- Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255); TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889).
Depression is a Treatable Illness
The majority of people with depressive disorders improve when they receive appropriate treatment. Depression is undeniably painful for the depressed individual and can disrupt the lives of others who care or are involved. Support from family and friends can play an important role in successful treatment. Often times, the feelings and behaviors that are part of depression hinder a person’s ability to seek support, and men in particular may find it especially difficult to acknowledge depressive symptoms or ask for support. It is important to remember, however, that depression is a real, treatable illness and is nothing to be ashamed of. Asking for help takes courage, but it can make all of the difference and help get life back on the right track.
Adapted from the National Institute of Mental Health