Depression In Men
Updated: Feb 16
While clinical depression was once considered a "woman's disease," it actually affects both sexes. The most common symptoms of depression include low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, fatigue, changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, apathy, and sexual problems, including reduced sex drive. Although men and women share similar symptoms of depression, men tend to express those symptoms differently. While depressed women may feel sad and emotional, depressed men tend to become irritable, aggressive, or hostile.
The symptoms of depression in men may tend to go unrecognized because of the perception that they must be strong which often causes them to deny having problems. Also, western culture focuses on the expression of emotion being largely a feminine trait. This can cause men to avoid sharing their emotions related to depression and instead focus on the physical symptoms such as feeling tired.
Men are less likely to show "typical" signs of depression, such as crying, sadness, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, or verbally expressing thoughts of suicide. Instead of sharing their feelings they may suppress their more vulnerable side and express their pain in an irritable or aggressive manner. As a result, this problem is often not recognized as depression by many health care professionals. One other area of concern for men is the affect depression can have on their sexual desire and performance. Many men will deny any problems with their labido and mistakenly believe that this problem is related to their manhood instead of a very real medical problem such as clinical depression.
There can be serious consequences for untreated depression in men. Some studies indicate men are about four times more likely than women to commit suicide. This may be due to the fact that men tend to use more lethal methods of committing suicide, for example using a gun rather than taking an overdose of pills.
Although there is a strong link to the biochemical reasons that contribute to depression in men (eg. lacking seratonin), it is also important to understand about the situational and cultural expectations that can impact their mood. In order to effectively identify and treat their depression, it is crutial to understand how men in our society are brought up to behave. For instance, there is strong emphasis on being successful maintaining control of their emotions and being in charge. Men often feel compelled to present a “tough guy” persona which masks their truer and more vulnerable feelings. Unfortunately, this tends to keep them guarded and isolative when in fact they would be served better to share their depressed, upset emotions enabling them to connect with others who can offer support and perspective.
Unfortunately however, there tends to be a negative stigma associated with depression as a sign of weakness in men which makes dealing with the symptoms hard for them. For instance they may deal with their symptoms with a macho attitude or by drinking alcohol. This attitude still pervades many male-dominated institutions, such as the military and athletics, where men are taught that "toughness" means putting up with physical pain. Since admitting to emotional distress is considered taboo in many instances, men are more likely to indulge in addictions or commit suicide rather than seek help.
Aging men experience a number of stressors such as the loss of income and meaningful work related to retirement, an increase in death of family and friends, the onset of illness and loss of independence (eg. Driving). Any of these losses can contribute to an increase in stress and a loss of self definition or self esteem which may trigger depression.
Grief associated with loss is often dealt with differently between men and women. In general women can more easily express emotions whereas men tend to believe that the expression of emotion is a sign of weakness. In that regard, they often do not seek support for their bereavement and suppress their grief. They may take on more activities (eg. work; sports) to occupy their time, become involved in risk-taking behaviour (eg. compulsive sex) or indulge in addictive patterns. Studies show that suppressing grief can prolong it and lead to complications such as escalating anger, aggressiveness and physical illness. Physical signs of grief in men may include increased cholesterol levels, ulcers, high blood pressure, and pain.
More than 80% of people with depression can be treated successfully with anti-depressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. In therapy, men can learn to allow themselves to feel and to express their emotions whenever they appear. The suppression of feelings which is common place with men is what often increases their tendency to plummet into a depression. Instead of feeling, they use avoidance techniques such as over working or addiction. This causes a build up of suppressed emotions until they become overwhelming. When men are no longer able to cope with the stressors of avoidance, depression will begin to occur. By learning a accept their emotions, men can develop the skills to express them instead of letting them build up over time until they surface at a secondary site such as a physical illness or depression. Counselling is an essential tool to assisting in the development of these necessary ablities and skills that lead to an overall more healthy outlook on life.