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Depression in men

Lots of men struggle with depression throughout their lives and it can impact on them in many ways. However, some men may struggle to talk about their feelings or reach out for help, which can mean their depression gets worse over time. This may be because they believe that depression is a sign of weakness, or that they should simply ‘man up’, which can lead to some men trying to downplay how they’re feeling or cover it up. However, this isn’t the case – depression is a common mental illness, for which help is available.

Feeling hopeless, worthless and struggling with intense sadness are all common symptoms of depression. However, it’s important to realise that depression in men is treatable, and it’s possible for you to get better and start living life to the full again.

At Priory, we can help you overcome your symptoms, address the causes and triggers for your problems, and take steps towards recovery.

What is depression?

Depression is a Mental Health Condition that causes people to experience intense and persistent feelings of sadness and despair. It’s entirely normal for us all to feel ‘down’ or upset from time-to-time. However, if you find that this is becoming difficult to cope with and is preventing you from functioning in your daily life, it may be that you’re suffering with depression.  

How does depression in men differ from depression in women?

Lots of men and women experience the same features of depression. However, depression in men can differ in a number of key ways, when compared to depression in women. These differences are outlined in more detail later on this page. They include:

  • Incidence of depression in men – depression is less common in men than in women, with statistics suggesting that men are 50% less likely to be diagnosed with depression when compared to women. However, instead of this reflecting a true picture of how men are really feeling, it could be because of a number of different factors, such as:
    • Men may be less likely to seek help if they’re feeling depressed, which means they don’t get the diagnosis and help they need
    • Men may be less likely to want to talk about how they’re feeling, either with loved ones or their GP
    • Men may be more likely to downplay their symptoms or brush them off as being unimportant
    • Depression in men may be harder to diagnose because they display a much broader range of symptoms than women, with many of these symptoms being physical
  • Symptoms of depression in men – there are lots of depression symptoms that can arise in both men and women, but there are some specific signs of depression in men to be aware of.
  • As mentioned above, men are more likely than women to display physical signs of depression such as headaches and tiredness, among others
  • Causes of depression in men – again, both men and women are susceptible to certain causes of depression. However, some influences may be more likely to affect men than women, leading to depression in men

Signs and symptoms of depression in men

There are lots of symptoms of depression, which can affect anyone of any gender. Some of the most common depression symptoms to look out for include:

  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Feeling angry and irritable
  • Anxiety
  • Finding it hard to make decisions
  • Being unable to concentrate
  • Becoming uninterested in hobbies and activities that you used to enjoy
  • Not wanting to spend time with your family and friends
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Sleep problems – either not being able to get to sleep at night, or finding that you’re sleeping more than usual and struggling to get out of bed in the morning
  • Appetite changes – finding that you eat more or less than usual, causing changes in your weight
  • Unexplained physical problems such as aches, pains and digestive problems
  • Becoming less interested in sex and experiencing sexual problems
  • Relationship problems
  • Finding that you’re unable to manage simple day-to-day tasks and feeling as though you can’t function

However, some depression symptoms are more likely to be experienced by men than women. Depression symptoms in men can include:

  • Experience the physical symptoms of depression e.g. headaches, stomach aches and unexplained digestive problems
  • Experience anger and agitation
  • Demonstrate reckless behaviours such as dangerous driving
  • Abuse substances
  • Lose interest in their family or hobbies
  • Work obsessively – this can often be used as a way of escaping their negative feelings
  • Become controlling or abusive in relationships
  • Have difficulty sleeping
  • Feel tired and irritable all the time

It’s also important to note that men are up to four times more likely to complete suicide as a result of their depression, when compared to women.

Causes of depression in men

Depression can be caused by lots of different things, and many of these are common across both men and women. Potential causes of depression include:

  • Going through difficult life events such as divorce, losing your job or a bereavement
  • Having a family history of depression or other mental health problems
  • Having a personal history of other mental health problems
  • Being the victim of abuse or neglect, especially if this happened during the early years of life
  • Having certain personality traits such as being overly self-critical or having low self-esteem
  • Struggling with serious physical health problems such as cancer

While anyone can suffer with depression, there are some risk factors that can make a man more vulnerable to struggling with depression. These can include:

  • Experiencing sexual dysfunction. Men who struggle with sexual dysfunction, including erectile problems, are more likely to develop depression than women, or other men who don’t have sexual dysfunction problems.
  • A factor which can make this more complicated is the fact that sexual dysfunction can be a side effect of some antidepressant medication.
  • This means that men who have already received a diagnosis of depression and are receiving treatment (whether this is linked to sexual dysfunction problems or not) may end up feeling worse if they go on to experience sexual dysfunction as a side effect of their medication. This can lead to what can feel like a vicious circle for some men
  • Men are more likely than women to develop depression as a result of experiencing loneliness or having a lack of social support. This can especially affect older men, if they are living alone and ageing in isolation
  • Men are more likely than women to become depressed if they have a history of alcohol or drug abuse

Types of depression in men

There are six main types of depression that can affect both men and women. These include:

  • Mild/moderate depression
  • Severe depression
  • Severe depression with psychotic symptoms
  • Dysthymia
  • Bipolar depression
  • Recurrent depressive disorder

While postnatal depression (PND) is typically thought of as only affecting women, it’s also possible for men to struggle with this type of depression following the birth of a child. This is known as paternal postnatal depression (PPND).

How to help a man with depression

If you’re worried that a man you know or care for is showing signs of depression, there are a number of things you can do to support him. For more detailed information on the types of things you can do to help, you can read our dedicated page: how to help someone with depression.

In summary, you can:

  • Learn as much as you can about depression and the symptoms to look out for. It’s especially useful to learn about the symptoms of depression in men
  • Try to have a conversation with your loved one about his depression, when you can speak openly and honestly about how he’s feeling. Make sure that you:
    • Listen to what he has to say
    • Encourage him to confide in you how he’s feeling
    • Avoid being critical, judgemental or making assumptions
    • Let him know that depression is an illness, not a sign of weakness
  • Talk to him if you notice his behaviour has changed e.g. if he doesn’t seem to be interested in hobbies anymore. However, make sure the focus is on you rather than him, so he doesn’t become defensive e.g. you could say “I’m worried about your behaviour”, “I wanted to know if there’s anything I can do to help”
  • Be there for him as much as you can and let him know that he can always rely on you for help and support
  • Encourage him to seek help for his depression. You could offer to call his GP on his behalf to make an appointment and then go along with him as moral support
  • Encourage him to keep doing things that make him happy e.g. meeting friends for a game of tennis
  • Make sure you look after yourself as well as your loved one, to make sure you have the resources and the emotional energy to support him
  • Lastly, it’s so important to take any remarks about suicide seriously. You may also wish to remove or lock away anything your loved one could use to take his own life e.g. knives, medication stockpiles. If you’re worried about your loved one’s immediate safety then call 999

As well as the above, you could also encourage and help your loved one to keep track of his symptoms in terms of what they are, when they occur and whether there are any particular triggers.

  • Does he feel depressed at certain times of the day such as when he wakes up in the morning?
  • Does he feel more depressed when he’s on his own as opposed to when he’s with other people?
  • Does he feel more depressed when he’s particularly stressed or tired?

By understanding these patterns and helping your loved one to spot them too, you’ll be better able to support your male relative or friend with his difficult emotions and learn to recognise when he’s going through a particularly hard time.

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