An estimated 322 million people are living with symptoms of depression worldwide. In the United States alone, that translates to almost 7 percent of the adult population. On top of that, an estimated 3.2 million American adolescents suffer from the condition.
While society is more open now than it ever has been before, many men still don’t like to talk about their possible symptoms with their loved ones or mental health professionals.
Men share some common symptoms of depression with women like feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness, extreme fatigue and difficulty getting to sleep, but they also experience their own set of unique issues.
Recognizing Depression in Males
According to The Mayo Clinic, male depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated, often leading to suicide attempts.
Some of the key reasons men often go untreated is a mix of things. Men tend to downplay the signs and symptoms of depression to themselves and others, sometimes out of ignorance and lack of knowledge of what depression is and feels like along with a sense of pride in not admitting weakness.
Symptoms of depression in men can be tough to spot, ranging from feeling sad and emotional to things like headaches, fatigue, irritability and digestive problems. The Mayo Clinic reports that men often seek distractions and isolate themselves to prevent from talking about their issues with anyone else.
In reality, however, someone ignoring, suppressing or failing to recognize their depression could be doing themselves harm in the long run. Ignoring, suppressing or masking depression with unhealthy behavior will only worsen the negative emotions.
In fact, the Mayo Clinic found that one of the main reasons men aren’t diagnosed with depression is communication: “You may not be open to talking about your feelings with family or friends, let alone with a health care professional. Like many men, you may have learned to emphasize self-control. You may think it’s not manly to express feelings and emotions associated with depression, and you try to suppress them.”
That suppression and sense of shame often goes further than withdrawing from those closest to them. It often stops men from seeking help at all.
The research goes on to conclude that many men “may avoid getting help because you’re worried that the stigma of depression could damage your career or cause family and friends to lose respect for you.”
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “some men with depression hide their emotions and may seem to be angry, irritable, or aggressive while many women seem sad or express sadness. Men with depression may feel very tired and lose interest in work, family, or hobbies. They may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression. Sometimes mental health symptoms appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches, or digestive issues can be signs of a mental health problem. Many men are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms.”
Compounding the Male Suicide Rate
That incredible sense of shame associated with depression as a male has a disastrous effect on men’s mental health, often leading to suicide attempts.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts, killing nearly 50,000 Americans and costing the country an estimated $69 billion.
Men as a whole are about 3.54 times more likely to commit suicide than women. While it’s true that more women will attempt suicide than men, men’s attempts are more often successful.
Talking openly with your loved ones, checking in on those you think might be suffering and getting your loved ones the resources and help they need all go a long way to breaking the stigma for men and decreasing the high suicide rate.
How To Deal With Depression
“Most people who have problems see their primary-care physician,” says Suzanne Bennett Johnson, PhD. “From a primary-care provider’s point of view, it’s easier to write a prescription than try to find a provider who could offer other kinds of treatment.” Psychotherapy, however, has to be a part of the solution—if not the largest and most impactful for long-term recover.
When it comes to dealing with depression, there are plenty of options for men. Using coping skills learned through psychotherapy and analysis as a way to deal with negative emotions is a great way to help fight that sense of sadness and hopelessness that comes with depression.
Some common coping skills include setting realistic goals for yourself, seeking out support from loved ones, stress management practices like meditation and mindfulness exercises and trying to keep up a healthy, active lifestyle.
In the end, however, the best way to deal with depression is to talk about it with a professional therapist or counsellor. Depression does get better with treatment, whether via therapist or medications. Asking for help is a sign of strength that most men wouldn’t normally consider, but should.
If you or someone you love is suffering from depression and is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or find a suicide helpline outside the U.S. at Befrienders Worldwide.