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How to Identify Depression in Men - Causes and Cures

Updated on September 9, 2014

Does the man in your life suffer from depression?A guide on how to help him cope...

"Men are from Mars, women are from Venus." So goes the age-old maxim and title of John Gray’s ever popular relationship handbook. The idiom holds true for one of the most debilitating yet common and curable diseases in modern day society; depression.

Extensive research has revealed that both sexes are likely to suffer from depression at some point in their lives, yet more women are diagnosed and treated for the disease. Also the attempted suicide rate was found to be slightly higher for women. However, the suicide completion rate of men was significantly higher than that of their female counterparts. One of the most profound differences with depression between the sexes is that women tend to communicate their emotions more often and effectively than men. Sadly, societal norms dictate that a man needs to be in control and strong with all of his emotions intact all of the time. A man would then be less likely to admit he has an emotional problem, thinking he would be deemed as weak, inadequate or unmanly. Therefore a depressed woman is more likely to be diagnosed and treated for depression because women talk about their feelings.

Depression in men tends to manifest in fatigue, anger, frustration, insomnia, aggression, irritability, social withdrawal, erectile dysfunction, loss of appetite and weight and the lack of concentration. They are more likely to go the doctor and complain about the physical aches and pains associated with depression than their emotional state, thus creating a misdiagnosis. Men are also more likely to self- treat themselves by delving compulsively into their work; reckless behavior and many turn to alcohol and drugs as a self medicating mechanism. It’s also been reported that men suffer a higher death rate due to heart disease after experiencing prolonged and untreated states of depression; so identifying, communicating the problem and resolving the issue is crucial.

Causes of depression in men

  • Separation and divorce: Globally, men who are either separated or divorced from their partners are in the highest suicide risk group due to depression. They often have to deal with stress related to not seeing their children, moving and financial difficulties. The loneliness and isolation also increases depression.
  • Pregnancy and fatherhood: New fathers often feel depressed if their partner is suffering from post-natal blues. Men may feel rejected by their partners as new moms often shower all their love and attention on their new arrivals.
  • Impotence: Depression and erectile dysfunction in men are inextricably linked. A man may feel sexually inadequate due to impotence and this could lead to depression or the use of anti-depressants and certain medications could in turn lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Gay men and depression: Depression caused by stress, especially in homosexual adolescents who have yet to ‘come out’ with their sexual preferences.
  • Unemployment and Retirement: Since the exodus of time, man was thought to be the breadwinner. Most men would feel depressed at the thought of having to think of their partner as the breadwinner. Psychologically, a man attaches his identity and sense of self worth to his career. When that is taken away from him, he may become overwhelmed by that loss of identity. His job might also have given him status. When men retire they may miss their income, their colleagues and all the social interaction. They may also become disoriented and miss the structure of their day. Having to adjust creates anxiety.
  • Stress and anxiety: Prolonged stress and anxiety if not dealt with could lead to depression.
  • Andropause: The male ‘version’ of menopause or midlife crisis, could cause depression in men.
  • Inherited tendencies: Research has revealed that bipolar disorder (manic depression) tends to be somewhat inherited in families.
  • Physical conditions: Heart attack, dementia, stroke, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and hormonal imbalances can also lead to depression.
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – ADHD sufferers tend to suffer from periodic patterns of depression.
  • Death: The trauma suffered due to the loss of a loved one could lead to depression.
  • Old age: The aged are prone to depression due to illness and loneliness.
  • Low self esteem: This could lead to depression, i.e. an overweight man could become depressed due to poor body image.

Natural healers:

  • Communication and effective diagnosis: Encourage him to express his emotions to a professional and obtain a proper physical and mental diagnosis. Go for counseling, psychotherapy or join a support group together. Your GP should be your first port of call, whereby he or she could make referrals.
  • Help him to adopt a positive and healthy mental attitude. Depression is usually more common in pessimists.
  • Encourage regular exercise: Research has revealed that daily 30 minute sessions of exercise can improve mood as much as anti-depressants. It releases feel ‘happy’ hormones or endorphins. Exercise is also good for vitality and weight loss and men suffering from low self esteem due to obesity could benefit. A good form of exercise for elderly men is Tai Chi.
  • Create awareness around him avoiding stressful situations: If possible help him to reduce his stress at work by evaluating the reasons for him being overly competitive. Does he have an underlying need to control and win in every situation? If so, try to understand where it is coming from and help him deal with it.
  • St.John’s Wort: This could be used to combat less severe depression but should not be administered to those with bipolar disorder, liver and kidney disease.
  • Omega – 3 fatty acids: Depressed individuals have low dietary intakes of this.
  • Research on how to improve natural feel good hormones: Serotonin improves mood, GABA creates calm and improves relaxation, and Dopamine and noradrenaline are mood elevators.
  • Adaptogens (herbs that alleviate stress) that could be used to combat depression are ginseng, reishi mushrooms, liquorice and rhodiola according to the SA journal of natural medicine.
  • His diet: Encourage him to reduce his intake of sweets, avoid caffeine, drugs and alcohol, and increase your intake of Folic Acid, vitamin B6 and magnesium, as stress depletes magnesium.
  • And last but certainly not least, encourage him to become his very own spiritual guru. Help him find his true calling, his soul mates, and a connection with his higher power.

Copyright Melanie Fourie 2011

Using exercise to combat depression


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