Depression in Men
What it Looks Like and How to Get Help
As men, we like to think of ourselves as strong and in control of our emotions. When we feel hopeless or overwhelmed by despair we often deny it or try to cover it up. But depression is a common problem that affects many of us at some point in our lives. While depression can take a heavy toll on your home and work life, you don’t have to tough it out. There are plenty of things you can start doing today to feel better.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression in men?
Men tend to be less adept at recognizing symptoms of depression than women. A man is more likely to deny his feelings, hide them from himself and others, or try to mask them with other behaviors. And while men may experience classic symptoms such as depressed mood, loss of interest in work or hobbies, weight and sleep disturbances, fatigue, and concentration problems, they are more likely than women to experience “stealth” depression symptoms such as irritability, substance abuse, and agitation.
The three most commonly overlooked signs of depression in men are:
- Physical pain. Sometimes depression in men shows up as physical symptoms—such as backache, frequent headaches, sleep problems, sexual dysfunction, or digestive disorders—that don’t respond to normal treatment.
- Anger. This could range from irritability, sensitivity to criticism, or a loss of your sense of humor to road rage, a short temper, or even violence. Some men become abusive or controlling.
- Reckless behavior. A man suffering from depression may exhibit escapist or risky behavior such as pursuing dangerous sports, driving recklessly, or engaging in unsafe sex. You might drink too much, abuse drugs, or gamble compulsively.
How to recognize depression in men
Depression affects millions of men of all ages and backgrounds, as well as those who care about them—spouses, partners, friends, and family. More than just a dip in mood in response to life’s setbacks and disappointments, depression changes how you think, feel, and function in your daily life. It can interfere with your productivity at work or school and impact your relationships, sleep, diet, and overall enjoyment of life. Severe depression can be intense and unrelenting.
Depression in men can often be overlooked. Many men find it difficult to talk about their feelings so they tend to focus on the physical symptoms that often accompany depression. This can result in the underlying depression going untreated.
Men suffering from depression are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. It’s important for any man to seek help with depression before feelings of despair become feelings of suicide. Talk honestly with a friend, loved one, or doctor about what’s going on in your mind.
There is plenty men can do to overcome depression. The important thing is to recognize the symptoms.
Am I depressed?
If you identify with several of the following, you may be suffering from depression.
- You feel hopeless and helpless
- You’ve lost interest in friends, activities, and things you used to enjoy
- You’re much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
- You’re consuming more alcohol, engaging in reckless behavior, or using TV, sports, and sex to self-medicate
- You feel restless and agitated
- Your sleep and appetite has changed
- You can’t concentrate or your productivity at work has declined
- You can’t control your negative thoughts
If you’re feeling suicidal…
Problems don’t seem temporary—they seem overwhelming and permanent. But if you reach out for help, you will feel better.
Read HelpGuide’s Suicide Prevention articles or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
For help outside the U.S., visit Befrienders Worldwide.
Triggers for depression in men
Biological, psychological, and social factors all play a part in depression in men, as do lifestyle choices, relationships, and coping skills. Stressful life events or anything that makes you feel helpless, profoundly sad, or overwhelmed by stress can also trigger depression in men, including:
- Overwhelming stress at work, school, or home
- Marital or relationship problems
- Not reaching important goals
- Losing or changing a job; embarking on military service
- Constant money problems
- Health problems such as chronic illness, injury, disability
- Recently quitting smoking
- Death of a loved one
- Family responsibilities such as caring for children, spouse, or aging parents
- Retirement; loss of independence
Seek social support to reduce stress and feel happier
Work commitments can often make it difficult for men to find time to maintain friendships, but close relationships are vital to helping you get through this tough time.
- The simple act of talking to someone face to face about how you feel can be an enormous help.
- The person you talk to doesn’t have to be able to fix you; they just need to be a good listener, someone who’ll listen attentively without being distracted or judging you.
- If you don’t feel that you have anyone to turn to, it’s never too late to build new friendships and improve your support network.
Finding social support to beat male depression
Reach out to family and friends. Accepting help and support is not a sign of weakness and it won’t mean you’re a burden to others. In fact, most friends will be flattered that you trust them enough to confide in them.
Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. When you’re depressed, it feels more comfortable to retreat into your shell. But being around other people will boost your mood.
Join a support group for depression. Being with others facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and remove any stigma you may feel.
Volunteer. Being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure and is also a great way to expand your social network.
Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club.
Walk a dog. It’s good exercise for you and a great way to meet people.
Invite someone to a ballgame, movie, or concert. There are plenty of other people who feel just as awkward about reaching out and making new friends as you do. Be the one to break the ice.
Call or email an old buddy. Even if you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect.
Exercise for greater mental and physical health
When you’re depressed, just getting out of bed can seem like a daunting task, let alone exercising. But regular exercise can be as effective as antidepressant medication in countering the symptoms of depression in men. It’s also something you can do right now to boost your mood.
- Aim to exercise for 30 minutes or more per day—or break that up into short, 10-minute bursts of activity. A 10-minute walk can improve your mood for two hours.
- The most benefits for male depression come from rhythmic exercise—such as walking, weight training, swimming, martial arts, or dancing—where you move both your arms and legs.
- Adding a mindfulness element is particularly effective. Focus on how your body feels as you move—the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the wind on your skin.
- Joining a class or exercising in a group can help keep you motivated and make exercise a social activity. Or find a workout buddy, and afterwards have a drink or watch a game together.
Eat a healthy diet to improve how you feel
What you eat has a direct impact on the way you feel.
Minimize sugar and refined carbs. You may crave sugary snacks, baked goods, or comfort foods such as pasta or French fries, but these “feel-good” foods quickly lead to a crash in mood and energy.
Reduce your intake of foods that can adversely affect your mood, such as caffeine, alcohol, trans fats, and foods with high levels of chemical preservatives or hormones.
Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids to give your mood a boost. The best sources are fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines), seaweed, flaxseed, and walnuts.
Try foods rich in mood-enhancing nutrients, such as bananas (magnesium to decrease anxiety, vitamin B6 to promote alertness, tryptophan to boost feel-good serotonin levels) and spinach (magnesium, folate to reduce agitation and improve sleep).
Avoid deficiencies in B vitamins which can trigger depression. Eat more citrus fruit, leafy greens, beans, chicken, and eggs.
Make healthy lifestyle changes to lift your mood
Positive lifestyle changes can help lift depression and keep it from coming back.
Get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms can be worse. Sleep deprivation exacerbates anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
Reduce stress. Too much stress exacerbates depression but there are healthy ways to cope. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression, reduce stress, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.
Spend time in sunlight. Getting outside during daylight hours and exposing yourself to the sun can help boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. Take a walk, have your coffee outside, or double up on the benefits by exercising outdoors. If you live somewhere with little winter sunshine, try using a light therapy box.
Boost your ability to stay on task
Recovering from depression requires action, but taking action when you’re depressed can be hard. If you’re having trouble following through on positive intentions, HelpGuide’s free emotional intelligence toolkit can help.
- Learn how to quickly reduce stress.
- Manage troublesome thoughts and feelings.
- Motivate yourself to take the steps that can relieve depression.
- Improve your relationships and overall health and happiness.
Professional treatment for depression in men
If support from family and friends and positive lifestyle changes aren’t enough, seek help from a mental health professional. Be open about how you’re feeling as well as your physical symptoms. Treatments for depression in men include:
Therapy. You may feel that talking to a stranger about your problems is ‘unmanly,’ or that therapy carries with it a victim status. However, if therapy is available to you, it can often bring a swift sense of relief, even to the most skeptical male.
Medication. Antidepressant medication may help relieve some symptoms of depression, but doesn’t cure the underlying problem, and is rarely a long-term solution. Medication also comes with side effects. Don’t rely on a doctor who is not trained in mental health for guidance on medication, and always pursue self-help steps as well.
Helping a man with depression
It often takes a wife, partner, or other family member to recognize a man’s symptoms of depression.
Talking to a man about depression
Many men don’t exhibit typical depressive symptoms—but rather anger and reckless behavior—so you may want to avoid using the word “depression” and try describing his behavior as “stressed” or “overly tired.” It could help him to open up.
Point out how his behavior has changed, without being critical. For example, “You always seem get stomach pains before work,” or “You haven’t played racquetball for months.”
Suggest a general check-up with a physician. He may be less resistant to seeing a family doctor than a mental health specialist at first. The doctor can rule out medical causes of depression and then make a referral.
Offer to accompany him on the first visit with a mental health specialist. Some men are resistant to talking about their feelings, so try to remove roadblocks to him seeking help.
Encourage him to make a list of symptoms to discuss. Help him focus on his feelings as well as physical ailments, and to be honest about his use of alcohol and drugs.
How to support a man with depression
Engage him in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage the feelings he expresses, but do point out realities and offer hope.
Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or find a suicide helpline outside the U.S. at Befrienders Worldwide.
Invite him for walks, outings, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused.
Encourage participation in activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, or cultural activities, but do not push him to undertake too much too soon.
Do not expect him ‘to snap out of it.’ Instead, keep reassuring him that, with time and help, he will feel better.
You may need to monitor whether he is taking prescribed medication or attending therapy. Encourage him to follow orders about the use of alcohol if he’s prescribed antidepressants.
Remember, you can’t “fix” someone else’s depression. You’re not to blame for your loved one’s depression or responsible for his happiness. Ultimately, recovery is in his hands.
Adapted from: National Institute of Mental Health