Depression is a medical illness that impacts both men and women. The struggle with depression is different in men than women for a multitude of reasons. The main ones being “as men, we are strong” and the battle with “denial.”
Left untreated, male depression can be a debilitating mood disorder that affects virtually every area of your life. Though it can affect anyone, signs of depression in men can vary from what women experience.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), an estimated 9% of men in the United States have feelings of depression every day. Couple this with the fact that suicide rates in the U.S. are four times higher for men than women, and the need for awareness surrounding men and depression is clear.
The fact that depression presents differently in men than it does in women means we need to take a closer look at some of the signs of male depression specifically if we want to make much-needed changes. Read on to learn more about depression in men — including how it differs from women, some of the causes, why it often goes undiagnosed, how to cope, and more. If you or a man in your life is dealing with depression, understanding as much about it as possible might be the turning point you’ve been looking for.
Depression in Men vs. Women
Men and women not only experience different depression symptoms, but their willingness to discuss how they’re feeling can be vastly different as well. There are some similarities in terms of causes of depression between men and women. For example, family history for either gender can result in a higher risk. Likewise, stress can be a trigger for both genders. That said, there are some significant differences between the two.
How it differs
One major difference between depression symptoms in men and women is that with men, outward symptoms are more likely to show. Women with depression tend to have increased appetite, weight gain, and anxiety, and they also may excessively sleep.
Hormones play a big role in the variation of symptoms of depression in men compared to women. A lot of times agitation, aggression and hostility is reflective of the mood struggle men are going through. Sleep disturbances and appetite changes also present differently among men than women.
Men, on the other hand, are much more likely to hide their symptoms. They typically don’t let themselves cry as much or express outward sadness. They’re more prone to abuse substances as a coping mechanism. Perhaps most concerning is the likelihood that men will be more inclined to try and ride out their depression rather than seek help.
Unfortunately, depression is like many other mental health conditions in that the longer you wait to seek treatment, the more severe and damaging depressive symptoms can become.
How common is depression in men?
The APA notes that more than 30% of men have reported experiencing a long period of depression at some point in their life. Some research shows that depression is more common in women than men, but there’s a caveat to this assumption. Since symptoms show differently in men, depression can often be misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed for a longer timeframe. Underdiagnosis may contribute to the statistics that show more women than men are depressed.
“Depression is not uncommon in men but can look different given cultural and gender norms. There is also a wide range of symptoms that men can experience that they may not identify as being connected to depression, thus leading to underdiagnosis.”
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men?
The symptoms and signs of depression in men can differ for every man. They won’t all experience every symptom. Some have just a few, and others can have multiple or all of them. The following are symptoms that are common for men with depression.
- Restlessness or feeling anxious
- Anger or irritability
- Aggressive behavior
- Escapist behavior
- Controlling, abusive, or violent behavior
- Problems with sexual desire
- Loss of interest in work
- Lots of interest in things that were once interesting
- Feeling sad or empty
- Feeling hopeless
- Feeling tired but not being able to sleep
- Sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering details
- Changes in eating habits — either eating too much or not enough
- Physical pains — cramps, headaches, digestive problems
- Partaking in high-risk behavior
- Inability to meet work, life, or other important responsibilities
- Substance abuse
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicide attempts
Common Causes of Depression in Men
There are a few risk factors that make some men more susceptible to depression at some point in their life. Often, a combination of the following risk factors can contribute:
- Environmental stress: Environmental stressors like financial problems, a complicated relationship, grief or loss, work problems, major life changes, or virtually any abundantly stressful situation can trigger depression in men.
- Genetic factors: Many people wonder is depression genetic? In fact, family history can play an important role in depression. Men who have other family members who’ve been diagnosed with depression may be more likely to develop it themselves.
- Illness: Serious illness can also play a role in depression in men. Certain ailments like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and others can result in worsening depression. Additionally, a medication that’s often prescribed to treat medical illnesses might actually trigger or worsen symptoms of depression.
Why Depression in Men Often Goes Undiagnosed
Unfortunately, many of the signs of depression in men are missed, in part due to symptoms presenting differently in men than women. There are several other reasons why depression tends to go undiagnosed for some men.
- Reluctance to admit or discuss signs and symptoms: Men might be more reluctant to talk about their symptoms of depression. This can be due to the societal norms placed on men, including an emphasis on self-control or the masculinity that’s associated with not expressing feelings or emotions. Ultimately, this can result in men trying to suppress their feelings when they’re depressed.
- Downplaying signs and symptoms: Some men may be hesitant to admit when they’re feeling depressed or experiencing negative thoughts, but it’s just as likely they may not recognize how much depression is affecting their daily life. Unfortunately, by suppressing or masking their depression, their symptoms will often worsen.
- Resisting treatment: Circling back to the cultural norms in our society, some men might resist mental health treatment in general if they’re worried about the stigma of depression. The fear of professional or personal consequences might get in the way of their willingness to seek depression treatment.
- Failure to recognize signs and symptoms: Since men can have different depressive symptoms, it can be easy to miss. It’s easy to only think of the emotional responses related to depression, but in reality physical symptoms can be just as common. Digestive problems, headaches, irritability, even long-term pain can be an indication of depression in men.
“Depression is often undiagnosed in men because some presenting symptoms aren’t as obvious such as headaches, stomach problems, escaping into work or hobbies, inappropriate anger, risky behaviors, and/or substance use/abuse. In addition, cultural norms can contribute to making it harder for men to ask for help — they think they can continue to push through.”
Male depression & suicide
Depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior, and despite the fact that women actually attempt suicide more often than men, the reality is that men are more likely to be successful with their suicide attempts. There are a few reasons why this is the case:
- Men tend to use more severe methods when attempting suicide, such as guns.
- Men may be more impulsive when they have suicidal thoughts.
- Men tend to show fewer warning signs — they’re less likely to talk about suicide before attempting it.
How to Cope with Male Depression
Coping with male depression can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. The simple act of asking for help can be challenging for many men, but understanding that depression is likely to become more severe and intense when you don’t seek treatment can be a motivator.
Untreated depression can cause conflict in literally every aspect of life. From your professional world, to interpersonal relationships, to personal safety, treating your depression through therapy, medication, or a combination of the two can be the first step you take toward a healthier, happier version of yourself.
Finding Treatment for Male Depression
If you think you’re depressed and you’re ready to get help, you can start with your family doctor or healthcare provider. Online resources can be a valuable place to go as well. The National Institute of Mental Health has a great list of resources. Support groups, individual therapy, and self-help techniques can all be important aspects of your healing.
Certain types of evidence-based talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) are better for depression treatment than others. Some therapy techniques include:
There are several antidepressant medications that can treat depression in men. It’s important to note that antidepressant medication can take several weeks before it begins working. Some have side effects such as difficulty sleeping, headache or nausea, nervousness, sexual problems, and agitation. It’s important to note that antidepressants aren’t the only medication to treat depression. There are different types that you can talk to a doctor about.
The older medications that a lot of men avoided due to sexual side effects was an imitation. Availability of a new generation of medications can safely address the depression symptoms experienced by men without those concerns.
Brain stimulation therapy
Brain stimulation therapies are still sometimes used today. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be used in severe cases where other forms of treatment have not provided relief. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is another form of brain stimulation that’s approved to treat depression.
When you decide to treat your depression, you’re showing a sign of incredible strength. You’re making an investment in your own mental health, and that’s something you should be proud of.
“Asking for help when you’re experiencing some of these symptoms is an important step — depression is treatable. Reaching out to your primary care doctor or a licensed mental health professional can make a significant difference. You do not have to suffer alone.”
If you think you or someone you know has depression, take the first step by using our depression test to learn more.
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4. NIMH » Help for Mental Illnesses. Nimh.nih.gov. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help. Published 2021. Accessed November 2, 2021.