Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. At least 16 million American Adults suffered from a depressive episode in the past year, and depression is likely underreported. Awareness about depression and mental health in general has been growing in recent years as a result of public information campaigns and celebrities speaking out about their experiences with depression. However, many misconceptions persist, including the common belief that depression mainly affects women. In fact, at least a third of people suffering from depression are men. About six million men experience a depressive episode every year. Here are some ways depression is different for men.
Less sadness, more anger.
When people think of depression, sadness is often the first symptom to come to mind. It’s true that persistent sadness, often for no specific reason, is a common symptom of depression, but it’s typically not the only one and people with depression are not always sad. This is more often true of men. Instead of sadness, men are more likely to feel irritable or angry. This may show up as being testy or short-tempered with others. It may also show up as aggression or reckless behavior, especially in younger men and teens. Getting into fights, stealing, or engaging in other reckless behavior may actually be a sign of depression. Other symptoms common in men include fatigue, sleeping too little or too much, slow movements, trouble concentrating, lack of interest in things they used to enjoy, inability to feel pleasure, changes in appetite and weight, reduced sex drive, and thoughts of death or suicide.
More physical symptoms.
Men are also more likely than women to experience depression as physical symptoms and they may not connect these to depression, assuming instead there’s something physically wrong. In a sense, there is something physically wrong. Recent research has found that inflammation plays a significant role in depression and many of the symptoms are similar to having the flu but without the virus. Men may be more likely to experience depression as headaches, stomach aches, muscle or joint aches, insomnia, or racing heart. Therefore, men are more likely to see a doctor than a psychologist when they first notice symptoms.
Men don’t want to talk about it.
Men are less inclined to talk about their emotions than women are, and men are less likely to feel they have friends with whom they can discuss their emotions. This is likely due in part to structural differences in the brain and in part to social expectations. Even today, men are constrained by masculine ideals such as self-reliance and stoically enduring pain. This might be helpful in some contexts, but generally it’s a good way to end up feeling isolated and overwhelmed. Everyone needs help sometimes. Refusing to ask for help when you need it is more a sign of hubris than strength. One reason depression appears to be less common in men is that women are more likely to seek help. When men do seek help for depression, their reluctance to discuss their emotions can impede their progress in recovery. In fact, this reluctance might contribute to the development of depression in the first place. It takes time to learn to articulate what you’re feeling, and that’s even harder if you’re not in the habit of confiding in other people. Discussing your depression in a group setting might be especially challenging, but it can also be a way of practicing effective communication and learning to listen to others. Those skills can transfer to life in general and help you strengthen social bonds.
Men are more likely to self-medicate.
Not only are men less likely to ask for help, they are also more likely to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances. This is especially true of young men and teens, who are less aware of what’s going on in their heads. Addictive behavior in response to depression is not limited to alcohol and drugs. It’s also common for depressed men to work excessively, gamble, engage in risky sex, and other destructive behaviors.
Death by suicide is more likely for men.
The suicide rate of men in the US is almost three times that of women. Women are actually about twice as likely to attempt suicide, but men are still far more likely to die by suicide because men typically use more lethal means. Men are also more impulsive. Interestingly, only about half of suicides are known to be caused by depression. Many suicides are impulsive decisions in response to life stressors, especially those involving money and relationships. Some of these differences may be cosmetic. For example, some studies have found that the most common symptoms of depression for both men and women are depressed mood, anger, anxiety, stress, and irritability. Just as gender norms discourage men from describing their symptoms as “sadness,” they may also discourage women from expressing anger or aggression, thereby exaggerating the difference in symptoms. However, social pressure plays a real part in depression. Men often experience a lot of pressure to compete and succeed, to make money, to be strong, and not show vulnerability. The emphasis competition and material rewards often contributes to the development of depression, and the reluctance to communicate or seek help prevents healing. Despite these differences, depression is treated much the same in both men and women. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT has been proven effective in treating depression. This may be combined with antidepressant medication, such as SSRIs, which are very effective in about half of cases. For more resistant cases, transcranial magnetic stimulation, TMS, or electroconvulsive therapy, ECT, may also be effective.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848