How is Depression Different for Men?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 17 million American adults experience an episode of major depression each year. That’s about seven percent of American adults. However, women are more likely than men to suffer from depression, with 8.7 percent of women experiencing an episode compared to 5.3 percent of men. Experts agree that women are in fact more prone to depression for a variety of reasons but many believe that men experience depression at a higher rate than the statistics show. A big reason is that men and women tend to experience depression differently. We don’t quite understand why but there are probably both biological and social reasons. The following are the major ways depression is different for men.
Men often have different symptoms.
The first major difference is that men are likely to have different symptoms than women. This is partly because of biological differences and partly because of different social expectations. While many people assume that sadness or depressed mood is typically the most obvious symptom of depression, for many men the most obvious symptom may be irritability, anger, or aggression. This doubly problematic because not only are these symptoms typically not recognized as depressive symptoms, they also undermine social connection and alienate anyone who might be in a position to offer support.
In addition to irritability, anger, and aggression, men may also be more likely to suffer from physical symptoms, such as body aches, chest pain, back pain, digestive problems or headaches. Therefore, when men do seek help for depression, it is often accidental; they may go to the doctor about other physical symptoms and discover depression is the cause.
Men may be more prone to other symptoms as well. For example, while missing work more frequently is a common symptom of depression, men may also go to the opposite extreme and work excessively as a way of avoiding other problems. Men may also be more prone to risky behavior such as reckless driving, risky sex, or substance use. While sleep disturbance is a common symptom for everyone, men may be more likely to sleep too little than too much. Other symptoms common to both men and women include being unable to concentrate, fatigue, slow movements, changes in appetite, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, social isolation, and thoughts of suicide or death.
Men are less likely to seek help.
Another issue, and the reason depression rates in men are thought to be underestimated, is that men are less likely to seek help. There are a number of reasons for this. A major one is that men are simply less likely to recognize the symptoms of depression. This is because symptoms are often different for men, as outlined above, and because men are typically less aware of their emotions. They often prefer to ignore or suppress their emotions, having been taught from a young age to be tough, don’t cry, don’t show weakness, and so on. Women, generally speaking, are far more comfortable discussing their problems and emotions with each other and are more likely to recognize the symptoms of depression.
Even if men are aware that something is wrong, that they feel unusually sad or angry or that nothing is enjoyable anymore, they are less likely to seek help. Men seek help for mental health issues at only about half the rate of women. The reluctance to seek help is largely thought to be because of social norms. Men are expected to be self-reliant, strong, and invulnerable. In other words, even if you’re going through a difficult time, you should be able to sort it out on your own. Seeking help for mental illness is more strongly stigmatized among men, who fear being ostracized or criticized for seeking help. This may be especially true of men whose primary symptoms are irritability, anger, and aggression, as they may feel most strongly influenced by gender expectations. In other words, men who most strongly suppress feelings they see as “feminine” may also be the most reluctant to ask for help.
In addition to the stigma of seeking help for a mental health issue, men may also be less comfortable with the thought of talking about their feelings with a stranger. Therapy requires a certain degree of vulnerability that many men have spent their lives avoiding. Therefore, they may be more likely to ignore or downplay their symptoms to avoid being in a position of having to open up emotionally.
Men are more likely to self-medicate.
As noted above, substance use is a typical symptom of depression in men. Part of this can be attributed to risky or self-destructive behavior, but part of it is also self-medicating. Men in our culture often get the message that drinking is an acceptable way to cope with stress, sadness, anger, and other difficult emotions. Men may be more likely to self-medicate instead of seeking help or they may not even be aware of what they are doing. They may just notice that they feel ok when they drink or use drugs so they keep doing it.
Men are more likely to commit suicide.
Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide but men are about four times as likely to die by suicide. There are several reasons for this. One is that men tend to use more lethal means, like guns. About 60 percent of gun owners are men and guns are used in more than half of suicides. Men may also be more intent on completing the act whereas more women may attempt suicide as a way of seeking help. Drugs and alcohol may play a role as well. As noted above, men are more likely to self-medicate rather than seeking help. Alcohol or drug use may lead to impulsive suicide attempts. And since men are less likely to seek help for depression, they may not be aware that effective treatment is available. They may assume that whatever pain they feel will just continue forever. However, most depression responds well to treatment, often in a matter of weeks. If you are having suicidal thoughts or if you’re afraid someone you care about is having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.