While true that women are much more likely to admit to themselves and others that they are struggling with depression, men, too, can fall into depressive episodes. Men may not be as in touch with their emotions as women are; they are more solutions-oriented by nature. Men do not spend copious amounts of time ruminating about their emotional state, and even see that as a sign of weakness. Rather, a man experiencing depression is prone to compartmentalizing their emotional pain, locking it away so it doesn’t interfere with daily functioning—or so they might think.
Men are also much less likely to seek professional help for a major depressive episode due to the perceived stigma toward mental health issues. They may regard those who need mental health treatment as weak, and do not want to be seen that way. Men may also be more reticent about discussing personal feelings with a stranger, the therapist.
About twice as many women are diagnosed with major depressive disorder than men. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 8.5% of the adult population that experience depression is comprised of women, compared with a 4.8% rate of depression in men. While the data indicate women are more likely to experience depression than men, it is possible that the wide difference in prevalence reflects a reluctance to acknowledge the disorder and remain undiagnosed. However, ignoring the symptoms of depression can lead to worse problems, like kicking the can down the road.
Symptoms of Depression in Men
The symptoms of major depressive disorder as identified by the DSM-5 include nine common signs. When at least five of these symptoms persists for more than two weeks, and is not related to another issue such as a medical condition or substance abuse, the individual is diagnosed with depression.
The symptoms of major depressive disorder include:
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or emptiness
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- No longer experience pleasure in the activities once enjoyed
- Change in eating habits that leads to sudden weight change
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
- Slowed movements and cognitive functioning
- Irrational feelings of shame or guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
However, when it comes to male-specific depression symptoms, here are some telling signs that a man might be suffering from depression.
- Irritability and anger. When a man feels depressed he may express the frustration with his state of mind by lashing out in anger for no apparent reason. This might be demonstrated through acts of road rage, physical or verbal abuse, being highly sensitive to criticism, or just being chronically hostile or irritable. He may also be more agitated and restless than normal.
- Substance abuse. About 25% of men who are diagnosed with major depression also have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism and depression is an extremely common dual diagnosis, with the alcohol, a depressant, only making the depression symptoms worse. In addition, men have more physical aches and pains associated with depression and may turn to prescription pain medications, potentially developing an opioid use disorder. The substance abuse is intended to act as a form of self-medication for the uncomfortable depression symptoms.
- Social avoidance. Men who are depressed may be prone to isolation behaviors. They may purposely avoid social events or family functions in favor of being alone. This may be due to the desire to hide the mood disorder from others, or it may be too difficult for them to make small talk at a social setting while feeling depressed.
- High-risk behaviors. When men feel depressed they often stuff these feelings and mask their true emotional state. Sometimes the frustration they are feeling can be exhibited in reckless or escapist behaviors. These might include engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as drinking and driving, compulsive gambling, unsafe sexual practices, engaging in dangerous sports, or picking fights with other men.
- Slowed movements. Men with depression experience psychomotor retardation, or the slowing of movement and the reduced ability to process cognitively. The slowing down of physical and mental functioning can impact work, daily tasks, concentration, and decision-making.
- Becoming more controlling. Depression in men can surface with signs of aggression and more controlling behaviors. This may be due to the feeling of being out of control, unable to wrestle themselves free from the symptoms of depression. By being controlling of situations or others he may be subconsciously attempting to restore his sense of self-worth, albeit in a dysfunctional manner.
- Difficulty meeting obligations. Men are wired to be the providers, the man of the house. When they are mired in the thick of depression it becomes more difficult to function normally. Men may become frustrated in their inability to function as they used to and just let go of their obligations.
- Sexual issues. Men who are depressed often lose their sex drive due to the impact of depression on brain chemistry in the mood center of the brain where appetite, sleep, energy, and sex drive are regulated. Depression can cause a lack of sexual desire as well as erectile dysfunction, which only makes the man feel more depressed. Antidepressants can also cause sexual dysfunction as a side effect.
- Suicidal thinking. While an increase in suicidal ideation, or a preoccupation in thinking about suicide, is a common symptom of depression among both sexes, in men it is more dangerous. Men are more than four times a likely to die if they do decide to commit suicide, mostly because they are more willing to use firearms.
Causes of Depression in Men
Depression is a complex mental health disorder than is still not fully understood in the scientific community. To date, research has identified the following potential causes of depression in men and women:
- Genetics. A family history of depression often predisposes someone to the mental health disorder.
- Environmental factors. A sudden loss of a loved one, financial distress, divorce, loss of a job, or experiencing a trauma can all contribute to triggering depression.
- Addiction. Alcoholism or drug addiction can bring a cascade of negative consequences that may lead to depression.
- Medical conditions. Some health conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes can co-occur with depression. The medications may also cause depressive symptoms.
Treatment for Depression in Men
Men can put up resistance when it comes to getting the help they need for a depressive disorder. In many cases, it is the spouse or other family member that ushers the man to a mental health provider for assessment. But taking this first step is critical for addressing the mental distress and finding relief from symptoms.
Depression treatment normally involves a combination of treatment elements, each person having a treatment plan that is tailored to the specific features of their depression. Generally, depression treatment involves:
Antidepressant drug therapy. Medications that modulate the neurotransmitter serotonin are the core treatment element for depressive disorders. These come in a variety of categories, including SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, and tricyclic antidepressants. Antidepressants take about 4 weeks to make an impact on symptoms, and it is quite common to have to trial a few different drugs or dosages before finding the one that is effective. Antidepressants do come with a list of potential side effects, with the most common being nausea, blurred vision, weight gain, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, dry mouth, constipation, and insomnia.
Psychotherapy. Although many men do not relish the idea of sharing their personal struggles with a stranger, they will find that working with a psychotherapist can have immense benefits. The therapist can assist the individual in exploring possible underlying factors, such as interpersonal problems or a history of trauma. Additionally, using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the therapist can guide the man to consider negative self-talk or other disorder thought patterns that might be contributing to the persistent low mood.
Men’s support groups. As an adjunct to the individual psychotherapy, group sessions with other men who are struggling with depression can be an excellent source of support. During the group therapy sessions, a clinician will facilitate the topics of discussion and encourage participation.
Lifestyle Changes that Help Manage Depression
There are several lifestyle tweaks that can also assist in managing depression in men. These are natural remedies that can improve overall mental wellness and may include:
- Diet. There is a proven connection between nutrition and mood. Studies have shown that a diet heavy in processed, salty foods and high sugar intake can result in low mood, poor sleep, and low energy. Instead, seek to eat foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, and nuts, lean meats, whole grain breads, fresh, leafy greens and fruits, and avoid alcohol, which is a depressant.
- Exercise. Getting regular exercise is the most natural way to lift the mood. This is because when we exercise our body releases endorphins, which make us feel good. Exercise also helps produce dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that can help regulate mood.
- Stress reduction. Learning how to decompress is key to mental wellness. Embrace activities that help induce a calm state of mind, such as yoga, meditation, and massage therapy. Relaxation techniques also help aid better sleep quality.
Mental Health Hope Compassionate Treatment for Men With Depression
Mental Health Hope offers a refuge for individuals seeking a knowledgeable source of support and information for mental health disorders such as depression. We recognize that depression does not discriminate, that depression in men is very real. Our compassionate mental health specialists will provide a free, confidential telephone assessment, and provide helpful information pertaining to depression as well as depression treatment options. If you are a man struggling with depression, reach out to our team at Mental Health Hope today at (877) 967-9274.