There are specific things to be aware of when it comes to depression in men. They often feel irritable, feel like they’re losing control, and start to ignore not only those things they used to enjoy, but also responsibilities in their professional and personal life. Ways to start feeling better include getting enough sleep, engaging in physical activity, by talking with a therapist and taking medication when needed.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health condition that can impact someone’s mood, ability to regulate emotions, and deal with day-to-day situations. People of all genders deal with depression and experience depression symptoms; however, they may have different levels of motivation or know-how related to discussing these feelings and working through them.
Why Is There Such a Strong Stigma Around Male Depression?
When men show emotion and admit to having difficult feelings, that may jeopardize their sense of masculinity. Masculinity being a catchall phrase for what society teaches men from a young age about how they should behave, feel, and believe. Within this message of masculinity, men are taught that we don’t talk about our feelings or admit our faults, as this would be “unmanly” of us.
Because of this message of masculinity, men may fly under the radar when feeling depressed and avoid seeking help. Seeking help, many times, is seen as equivalent to admitting weakness. This leaves a man feeling vulnerable. The fact of the matter is, true masculinity is found in embracing the fact we are all human and each of us has real struggles in life that we deal with.
What Is the Rate of Depression In Men?
Over their lifetimes, 30.6% of men have experienced a period of depression.1 Given this is such a large percent of the population, it’s important to be aware of a few key stats about this disorder.
Here are stats on male depression:
- Nearly 9% of men surveyed in the US report daily feelings of depression or anxiety1
- Only about 45% of men who reported daily feelings of depression or anxiety actually accessed a form of mental health treatment1
- 49% of men surveyed felt more depressed than they have admitted to the people in their lives12
- 45% of men surveyed believed that mental health issues can be solved on their own2
*These statistics include all individuals who self identified as men in surveys
What Age Is Depression Most Common In Men?
Depression in men is most common between the ages of 25-35. However, many men may not recognize their depression until they’re in their 40s or 50s (i.e., midlife crisis in men). They may mask their depression, and it may come from family and life stressors that happen around the age related to midlife crisis.
Signs of Depression in Men
When we think of depression, we often think of it in terms of depression vs. sadness. While it is certainly true that men can and do have symptoms like crying for no reason, others may present as well, like being angry, isolating themselves, or turning to substance use to cope with their mood changes.
Here are signs of depression in men:
- Angry Outbursts
- Sleeping less or waking up throughout the night
- Lack of interest in daily activities
- Isolating from others
- Increasing alcohol or other drug consumption
- Feeling out of control of everyday activities
- Unmet responsibilities at work
- Unmet responsibilities at home or with family
Symptoms of Depression In Men
There are similarities and differences of depression depending on the men; however, there are some basic symptoms that all men may experience.
Symptoms of male depression are:
- Depression and anger
- Substance misuse
- Inability to attend to commitments and responsibilities
- Suicidal ideation
- Depression & anxiety
- Agitation and restlessness
- Loss of interest in work, family, sex and enjoyable activities
- Feelings of emptiness
- Changes in sleep and eating habits
- Physical issues such as pain, fatigue, and headaches
Does Male Depression Affect Sexual Desire & Performance?
Depression in men can impact sexual drive and performance. Depression (or any kind of mood issue or stress) is linked to higher levels of cortisol, and in men, this leads to lower levels of testosterone. Even if men have the desire, they may not be able to show up fully to their sexual encounters, which can make them feel worse and further exacerbate their depression.
Male Depression Often Goes Undiagnosed
Depression in men can dress up as many other things, such as general stress, low testosterone, a mild to significant drinking problem, anger control issues, etc. When a man experiences the symptoms of depression, it sometimes coincides with the societal expectations of the man and a stigma on getting help for men’s mental health.
The average male in American society has traits and attributes associated with him that are prescribed by the dominant culture. When you think of “male-ness” what comes to mind? A strong, silent imposing image, with a tendency toward more aggressive or assertive nature? Maybe a stoic, unfeeling person like a stone in a rainstorm? Many men are simply uncomfortable discussing depressive symptoms with anyone.
What Causes Male Depression?
While there are many causes of depression, male depression is more likely to surface due to specific causes. Some of these causes are financial stress, relationship issues and a new diagnosis of a medical issue such as heart disease or diabetes. Also, the stigma of expressing emotions in men is much greater, so many men internalize and suppress their pain, which can develop into depression.
Male Depression & Suicide
The suicide rate for men is 3 to 6 times higher than women.3 Given the stigma of getting help for mental health among men, many never seek help and find unhealthy ways to cope. Men are more likely to complete suicide due to the lack of awareness of mental health, as well as societal perception that men should be “tough” and not pursue any help.
Roughly 60% of people who die by suicide also have a mood disorder such as depression.4 Men are also more likely to choose methods of suicide which are more guaranteed to be lethal (i.e. guns), leading to more successful suicide, though women have a greater rate of suicide attempts.
If You Have Suicidal Thoughts
If you feel hopelessness, isolation, or are considering harming yourself, seek immediate help. It may feel like suicide is the only way out; however, you should know there are alternatives to help you come out of feeling this way. Contacting a trained mental health provider can help you work through these feelings and find ways to cope moving forward.
If you are having active suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suidice Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK and connect with family and friends immediately for support. You can also call 9-1-1 for emergencies or go to the nearest hospital.
Common Types of Depression In Men
Based on types of depression being experienced, symptoms vary in intensity, duration, and cause.5
The most common types of depression in men include:
- Major depressive disorder: major depressive disorder is a depressed mood over at least a two week period that interferes with social life, work, or other areas of functioning. This is one of the most commonly diagnosed depressive disorders.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) is having a depressed mood for more days than not over a course of at least a two year period.
- Substance/medication-induced depressive disorder: depressed or irritable and elevated mood that is related to either alcohol or other drug use. Typically there are no identified symptoms prior to the substance or medication use.
- Depressive disorder due to another medical condition: typically diagnosed when there has been a significant medical diagnosis that alters the biological makeup of the body to cause depression. This can occur with strokes, traumatic brain injury, tumors, and other conditions that affect the brain.
- Other specified depressive disorder: this is typically diagnosed when the duration of symptoms or how they manifest do not fit with the other types. For example, a shorter depressive episode lasting a few days to a week would likely be categorized under this type.
What Are the Consequences of Untreated Depression In Men?
The consequences of untreated depression are easily seen in society. Take the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death in the US for people between 10-34 years old, and 10th leading cause of death overall. For men, however, the suicide rate is 3-6 times higher than that of women in the US.3
Untreated depression not only can lead to suicide, but also to other things that harm others in their lives close to them. Men who are domestically violent are also more likely to be clinically depressed according to one study.6 Depression can also cause rifts in relationships, in families, and cause problems at work.
How Is Depression in Men Treated?
Treatment for depression in men typically takes on the form of some combination of three things: therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes like exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy foods. While lifestyle changes are incredibly effective, they fulfill more of a maintenance and preventative role, whereas therapy and medication can directly address causes and symptoms of depression.
When seeking therapy, look for a licensed professional, such as a social worker, counselor, or psychologist. These professionals are trained and capable of treating depression and other mental health conditions. Therapy typically involves working with the professional on goals you set together through regular sessions.
Common types of depression therapy in men include:
- CBT: CBT for depression is one of the most common therapy approaches in mental health, and helps to identify thinking patterns correlated to emotional and behavioral reactions.
- ACT: acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) incorporates mindfulness into therapy, and is predominantly focused on recognizing and accepting emotions as they occur, and adapting behavior to meet the needs of the person in the moment or situation.
- Interpersonal therapy: interpersonal therapy uses the idea that interpersonal conflicts and social roles contribute to feelings of depression. This therapy approach takes a look at past and current social interactions and roles and how resolving conflict in those can alleviate symptoms.
Therapy is unique to the individual, so no two people will have the exact same experience or length of treatment. Depending on the therapist, their approach, and the severity of symptoms, therapy can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
It is important to talk with the therapist you choose to work with about expectations for treatment regarding both expected outcomes and length of treatment. However, you should know that most people do not require therapy for extremely long durations.
Medication for depression typically focuses on a specific chemical (serotonin) in the brain thought to be linked to depression and other mood disorders.7 Your doctor will prescribe medication based on severity and type of symptoms, health condition, and medical history. You’ll also want to report any adverse side effects so your doctor can monitor and adjust dosage or change medications as necessary.
While mild cases of depression may be handled by a family physician in some circumstances, many physicians will refer to a psychiatrist to manage medications for those who need it. If you’re looking to get pharmaceutical help in dealing with depression, speak with your primary care physician and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist in your area.
How to Get Help For Male Depression
The first step in getting help is to talk with your primary care doctor about symptoms you are having. He will likely screen for any number of underlying health conditions that could be contributing, and will likely be able to make a referral to a psychiatrist if needed.
How to Find a Therapist
If you’ve done this, and want to start working with a therapist, a good place to start is by looking through an online therapist directory. You may also want to ask some friends about therapists they know or have worked with in the past.
If you have health insurance, call your insurance company. They may be able to provide a list of in-network therapists in your area. Some insurance companies also have programs to assist in making referrals for their members and getting appointments set up, so be sure to ask about that if you do call.
7 Ways to Cope With Male Depression
Living with depression isn’t easy, but there are several things you can do to cope with symptoms and prevent symptoms from worsening. These are everyday changes that can be implemented in your life on a regular basis, and may improve other areas of your life as well.
Here are seven self-help tips for dealing with depression:
1. Establish Close Relationships
We are social beings. Even Charles Darwin wrote about the struggle for existence in a social context.8 It has been observed that social connection with other humans has an impact on longevity.9 Social supports are important to establish even for the most introverted of individuals, as these supports can be helpful in difficult situations.
Establishing close friendships with others opens the door to having someone to talk with and confide in during difficult times. It also allows you to help them when they may be going through tough times, providing a sense of belonging and purpose. This connection can be a strong factor in successfully coping with depression.
2. Get Enough Sleep
I cannot stress enough how important getting enough sleep each night is to overall mental and physical health. Depression very much has a biological component to it. Sleep is the cleanser of the brain, and only in sleep do we actually rid the brain of the waste that builds up throughout our waking hours.10
It is important to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Schedule it, and stick to it. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, try starting a bedtime routine by doing the same set of actions during the hour leading up to your head hitting the pillow. Also, avoid any screens for the hour before bed, as blue light messes with the brain’s circadian rhythm.11
3. Eat Healthy Foods
Western dietary patterns actually increase overall risk for depression. That means that the typical American diet is actually working against you in coping with depression. Whereas “a dietary pattern characterized by a high intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression.”12
Shift your diet to include more fruits and vegetables, healthy natural fats like fish oil and avocados, and moderate amounts of dairy and meat-based proteins. Fried foods and sugar should be avoided as much as possible. Of course, if you have any ongoing health conditions, speak with your doctor before changing your diet.
4. Set & Achieve Daily Goals
Setting small daily goals can go a long way to combating depression. I’m not talking about big, life-changing goals, but just to-do lists. In fact, accomplishing tasks, and physically checking them off a list, can actually release dopamine in the brain.13,14
5. Move…a Lot!
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to combat depression outside of professional mental health treatment.15 It will improve your overall health and wellbeing. Moving regularly throughout the day and taking frequent breaks at work to get up, walk, and stretch is important. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise in a day and/or three 30-minute vigorous routines in a week.
Also, try to do some of the exercises outdoors if possible. Getting out in the sun and fresh air not only feels good, but can impact levels of vitamin D in the body.16
6. Watch Your Social Media Intake
Social media & mental health are closely connected. Screen time seems to be ever-increasing in society, and the health effects of overconsumption of technology and social media are largely negative. If you find yourself in a bad mood after engaging in a social media binge, consider limiting your screen time throughout the day. There are several apps you can use to monitor this.
7. Consider Your Work-Life Balance
Hours spent working also have an impact on men’s mood. Men often work long, hard hours. It becomes increasingly difficult to turn off when email and texts come into a personal phone from work. Tips for maintaining work life balance include using settings to mute notifications, and make sure time off the clock is not spent on work.
How to Help a Man With Depression
Talk with your loved one about signs and symptoms you are seeing, and ask them if they would consider talking with their doctor or a therapist. Approach them out of concern and caring, being sure not to place judgment or accuse them of anything.
You may say something like, “I’ve noticed recently that you’ve seemed on edge for a while. I’m worried that there may be something going on that maybe needs some outside attention. Have you considered talking with a doctor or therapist about some of the problems that you’ve been dealing with lately?”
Seeking help and healthcare is a personal choice in most circumstances, and cannot be forced. The exceptions to this are when someone is putting themselves or someone else in immediate danger. If your loved one is actively suicidal or making threats of harm toward another, the first thing you should do is call emergency personnel and make sure you’re safe.
Final Thoughts on Depression in Men
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, it is important to speak up and get help. Given that men are more likely to die from depression-induced suicide, working to destigmatize mental health care for men is critical. Working with a therapist and having a support system is a great way to improve your mental health. Remember, there is always hope.
For Further Reading
The following are helpful resources for anyone impacted by depression in men:
- 16 Best Self-Help Books for Men
- The Face It Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to helping men understand and overcome depression, and reduce the rate of male suicide.
- HeadsUpGuys | Manage & Prevent Depression in Men is a resource for supporting men in their fight against depression by providing tips, tools, information about professional services, and stories of success.
- Man Therapy is a light-hearted resource with a tongue-in-cheek approach for men to learn about and navigate mental health issues.