The signs of depression in men are often much different from the symptoms typically found in women or teens, but male depression is more common than many people may think.
While statistics state that about 10% of men will experience a depressive period at some point in their lives, many doctors believe that this number may actually be much higher. In fact, it is suspected that depression probably occurs equally in both men and women (about 20%), but men are less likely to seek help so their condition often goes undiagnosed.
Men often hold the idea that society expects them to be strong and self-reliant; therefore, admitting feelings of depression is viewed as a sign of weakness. While women are more comfortable talking about their emotions, men are usually reserved and less likely to discuss their feelings with family or friends. They think that they are supposed to be in control and should be able to “fix” things on their own, so they will often suffer in silence or try to handle the situation themselves.
Depression in men can be very serious and, if left untreated, can sometimes lead to other issues such as substance abuse or suicide. So, it is important to recognize the signs and encourage men to seek help, even if they are reluctant.
Causes of Male Depression:
Like all depression, causes can vary depending on the individual and usually include a combination of biological (chemical and genetics), psychological, and social factors. Some people can go through difficult situations and never suffer depression while others may begin experiencing symptoms at very low levels of stress. Although doctors are not exactly sure of all the reasons why depression occurs in some people but not in others, there are a few events that seem to be consistently linked with depression among men, especially for those who are genetically or physiologically prone to the disorder.
Relationships: Many studies have shown that relationship problems, particularly among married men, is the most common trigger for depression. The theory is that men dislike arguments and confrontation, so they will avoid these situations at any cost. Women like to discuss things, even if it means disagreeing with their spouse; however, men would prefer to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. When a partner insists or “nags” a man about his refusal to talk, this leads to withdrawal and increased stress within the relationship. Instead of working things out, the couple will often become distant and other problems will arise. These difficulties can lead to depression.
Separation and Divorce: Since men often view themselves as leaders, when the family falls apart they feel a sense of failure. Not only do they lose the relationship with their spouse, but in many cases, the amount of time they spend with their children is also impacted. Having to move from their home, face possible financial difficulties, court proceedings, and all the other things associated with separation and divorce can also cause depression to develop.
Pregnancy and Children: For years we have understood and accepted the fact that women often experience the “baby blues”, but few people realize that about 1 in 10 new fathers also suffer depression during this stage of life. Suddenly, their level of responsibility has increased and they have a new little life to take care of and provide for. This stress is often overwhelming, and combined with the fact that many new mothers are tired and uninterested in sex and usually spend more time with the baby than their partners, you can see how pregnancy and children can sometimes contribute to male depression.
Statistics also show that men whose partners suffer postpartum depression are more likely to develop depression themselves. And, the addition of children to an already unhappy or insecure relationship seems to add to the strain and increases the likelihood of depression.
Unemployment: Next to relationship problems, unemployment is the second most cited factor in depression among men. Many men feel that they are responsible for taking care of their families, and even in modern society, are still often the main breadwinner in a household. Furthermore, men also link their career or job success to their sense of self-esteem or self-worth, so unemployment can be devastating both physically and emotionally. If a job loss is long-term, men may become discouraged and depressed, especially if they begin to lose some of their hard-earned possessions such as their car or home. Financial difficulties and worries can also put a strain on marriages and relationships, which increases the risk of depression developing.
Retirement: Although it is supposed to be a happy milestone, retirement can be a very difficult time for men, especially those who really enjoyed their jobs. This can be even more challenging if a spouse or partner continues to work. It can take some time to adjust to this life change and many men struggle with developing a new identity, particularly since so much of their self-worth is tied to their careers.
Deficient Testosterone Levels: Just like women, men can often suffer depression as a result of fluctuating or declining hormone levels. In fact, some doctors claim that men with low testosterone are up to 400% more likely to be diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
Signs of Depression in Men:
Although the same criteria is used to diagnose depression in both men and women, it has been found that some symptoms occur more often in men and that they generally cope with their feelings differently than women.
Some of the most common signs include:
• Escapism: Depressed men will often begin spending an increased amount of time at work. They may do this as a form of denying their depressed feelings or as a way of avoiding their family and friends, especially if their loved ones want to talk about emotional issues. Spending too much time away from home can also lead to relationship difficulties, which is another risk factor for depression.
• Substance Abuse: According to research, men use drugs or alcohol three times more often than women as a way of coping with depressed feelings. This form of self-medicating will simply mask the symptoms, and many doctors believe that this higher rate of substance abuse is one of the reasons why male depression goes unreported. An article by Philip Moscovitch for Best Health Magazine entitled Depression in Men: Symptoms and Treatment (March/April 2009), sites a study that looked at two communities that permitted little or no alcohol consumption – the Amish and the Orthodox Jews. Researchers found that the rates of depression in these communities were exactly the same for both men and women, leading to the conclusion that chemical use among men in other communities may hide or “mask” depression so that it is not recognized or reported.
• Physical Complaints: While women often talk about the emotional symptoms of depression, men are more likely to report physical complaints such as chronic headaches, backaches, stomachaches, or other ailments that cannot be explained by a medical cause. This does not mean that men are not experiencing the emotional aspects of depression such as anxiety and guilt, but they may feel that it is not socially acceptable to talk about them (or admit them).
• Anger: Depressed women are often passive and apathetic, whereas men are more likely to become hostile and angry. Some doctors believe that this occurs because men view feelings of depression as a sign of weakness so they become strong or aggressive as a way of compensating for these perceived inadequacies. Frustration and an inability to “fix” the problem on their own can also contribute to anger.
• Irritability: More than sadness and melancholy, depressed men will typically be irritable and cranky.
• Risky Behavior: Many depressed men will begin engaging in dangerous activities such as compulsive gambling, excessive drinking, careless driving, extreme sports, and casual sex or infidelity.
• Sexual Dysfunction: While infidelity and unhealthy or reckless sexual relationships are often a sign of depression in men, other sexual problems such as erectile dysfunction or a lack of interest in sex can also indicate the disorder. Although ED on its own does not always mean depression, if this is accompanied by a lack of desire or other typical depression symptoms, then it may be time to seek help.
• Suicide: Women attempt suicide more often, but men are nearly four times as likely to succeed. Also, suicide is more common among depressed men who are separated, widowed or divorced, or those who are heavy drinkers or drug users. Furthermore, older men are at a higher risk for suicide, although the reason for this is unclear. Some people think that it may be due to the fact that depression is misdiagnosed more often in this group because of other age-related health issues.
Treatment for Depression in Men:
Treatment for depression will often depend on the possible triggers – whether biological, social, or psychological, as well as the individual’s previous history.
Sometimes, talk therapy or support groups are very successful, while others may need to use antidepressants for a period of time. Alternative treatments such as diet changes, hypnosis, supplements, and relaxation techniques are also effective for some people. Your doctor will discuss your situation with you and help you find a treatment that works so you can manage or eliminate your symptoms and regain control of your life.
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