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Issues With Male Depression

Updated on November 9, 2012

What Are We Keeping Quiet?

Mike Wallace, Rodney Dangerfield, Terry Bradshaw, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dave Matthews. What common thread runs through this list? The link is something that many men are unwilling to talk about. And no, it’s not sexual performance but it can have a huge impact on your sex life.

Have you been feeling irritable, isolated and withdrawn? Or maybe you find yourself working all the time, drinking too much, using drugs or seeking thrills from risky activities like unsafe sex or gambling?

Winston Churchill called it his "black dog" — male depression. He tried to keep his black dog at bay with compulsive overwork and excessive drinking. For men, the strategies we use to fend off depression can include reckless driving, risky sex or shutting yourself off from the world.

The problem is that none of these can keep depression at bay for long. Even worse: When you suffer from untreated depression, you're also at an increased risk of suicide. And while women are three times more likely than men to attempt to kill themselves, men are far more successful. According to the CDC, 79% of successful suicides are by men.

The issues behind male depression

Depression affects about 6 million men in America each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, but only a few will actively seek out help for it. Researchers have been working to understand how male depression may be different from female depression, and hopefully uncover any implications for successful treatment. Although the issues remain open to debate and uncertainty, some possibilities include:

  • Male depression is simply not diagnosed
  • Some Symptoms Look Different Depending On Gender
  • Men with depression are more likely to die by suicide than women
  • Men need to learn healthy coping skills

Male depression is simply not diagnosed

Male depression may not be as widely recognized as it is in women, therefore men with depression are more likely to go undiagnosed. Reasons often include:

  • Reluctance to discuss depression symptoms. As a man, you may not be open to talking about your symptoms, especially emotions and feelings, with family or friends, let alone with a health care professional. This means you may not get properly diagnosed or treated for male depression.
  • Physicians aren't on the lookout for it. During an office visit, women are more likely to open up and discuss several things with their doctor. This helps physicians to recognize and treat depression quickly. But men tend to visit the doctor for strictly physical ailments and may shy away from discussing issues that they don't perceive as being related. This can often lead to a misdiagnosis, and the treatment of symptoms rather than illness. 
  • Mental illness is seen as a threat to your masculinity. If you're like most men, you have learned to emphasize independence, competitiveness, emotional stoicism and self-control. It seems "unmanly" to express your feelings and the emotions associated with depression and instead attempt to suppress them.
  • Hiding depression symptoms. Symptoms in men may be less readily apparent. For instance, you may mask depression symptoms with alcohol or substance abuse. Or, you may focus on the physical symptoms, rather than emotional or behavioral issues. And your symptoms may not match the "typical" depression symptoms. All of this makes it more difficult to detect male depression and may even lead to a misdiagnosis.
  • Resisting mental health treatment. Even if you are diagnosed with male depression, you may refuse treatment. You may worry about stigma damaging your career or about losing the respect of family and friends.

Some Symptoms Look Different Depending On Gender

Whether it's because of hormones, brain chemicals or coping methods, some evidence suggests that you may physically experience depression differently.

While some symptoms may appear in both genders, some things seem to be specific to men. A few of the red flags to watch for are:

  • Violent or abusive behavior
  • Inappropriate rage
  • Escapist behavior, such as overinvolvement in work or sports
  • Risky behavior, such as reckless driving
  • Sexual relationships beyond your normal patterns
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • More frequent thoughts of suicide

These kinds of symptoms are often linked to other issues and that makes it more difficult to link them to depression, making accurate diagnosis and treatment harder.

Male depression and suicide

As I've already mentioned, women attempt suicide more often than men do, yet men are more likely to complete suicide. Older white men, especially the 70+ age group, are at the greatest risk of suicide.

There are many reasons why men are more likely to complete suicide.They use methods that are more likely to be lethal, such as guns or hanging. They typically act faster on suicidal thoughts.

Men also show fewer warning signs leading up to it, such as talking about it or prior attempts.

When you have suicidal thoughts
If you have thoughts of suicide, get help as soon as possible. If you're considering suicide right now and have the means available, you need talk to someone now. The best choice is to call 911 or your local emergency services number. If you simply don't want to do that, for whatever reason, you have other choices for reaching out to someone:

  • Contact a family member or friend. It can often seem as if you are disconnected and no one cares about you and your problems, and talking with a loved one can help restore that connection.
  • Contact a doctor, mental health provider or other health care professional. They don't know you, but they are willing to be there to help you get through this.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
  • Go to your local hospital emergency room. They are ready and able to help you.
  • Call a crisis center or hot line. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you and you can get the help you need to get things going again.

Getting happy.
Getting happy.

Male depression and coping skills

Many men may feel that depression symptoms aren't severe. We may think that we should be able to just get over them or "tough them out". We may try to deny depression symptoms, ignore them or blunt them by drinking, drugs or working longer hours.

These attempts at dealing with the symptoms will likely just leave you chronically unhappy and miserable, which gets passed on to those around you, and there is the very real risk of losing your life. And if the issues that brought you to this point aren't addressed, any relief is fleeting. There are ways to deal with and manage depression. The next step after talking to someone is learning healthy coping skills.

It takes effort to practice healthy coping skills rather than automatically turning to alcohol, frequent risky sex or other dangerous behaviors. Treatment with a doctor or mental health provider can help you learn healthy coping skills. These can include:

  • Learning to set realistic goals and prioritize tasks to make life more manageable.
  • Finding emotional support from a partner or family or friends. In general, men tend to disregard the value of emotional support in coping with male depression, but in fact no one can do it alone.
  • Engage in activities you enjoy, such as exercise, movies, ball games or fishing. Exercise is a great way to help prevent mild depression from becoming something more.
  • And it is very important to delay making important decisions, such as changing jobs, until your depression symptoms improve. Quite frankly, you're not thinking clearly, so get your head straight first, then make decisions.

There are many effective treatments are available for depression. Some are things that you can simply work into your daily living, like diet and exercise. Others will take some scheduling if you lead a busy life. Meditation and time to yourself are hard to fit in a day, but the rewards are worth it. So don't try to tough out male depression on your own. The consequences may be devastating.

Do you have an experience with male depression you'd like to share? Or have you found a strategy that helps you keep your "black dog" at bay? I'd love to hear your stories and ideas. Having been there myself, I know what it's like to deal with it, and to come through all the stronger. I look forward to hearing from you.


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    • kari olfert profile image

      kari olfert 8 years ago

      Amazing article!