If you think about depression, you might imagine a person hunched over, feeling sad and helpless. Except, that’s not always how it looks. Depression is often much subtler. For men, societal pressures to conform to a certain image, coupled with a lack of understanding, can cloak the reality of it. Here's how we can recognize the signs and symptoms.
Signs of depression in men
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to depression in men is that the signs aren’t always visible. You might have a hard time recognizing it in a friend, or even in yourself. If it seems like something is off, ask these questions:
1. Do you have regular, unexplainable physical symptoms?
Traditional signs, like sadness or hopelessness, aren’t always the main symptom. In fact, physical signs are more likely to appear in men. This includes exhaustion, irritability, headaches, digestive problems, or long-term pain.
2. Do you use distractions to avoid signs and symptoms?
Many men don’t recognize just how much their symptoms are affecting them. Instead, they might do everything they can to avoid admitting it to anyone, even themselves.
If you catch yourself regularly reaching for distractions to numb uncomfortable emotions, you might be keeping yourself stuck. For example, do you reach for a drink whenever upset, stay busy to avoid being alone with your emotions, or do the opposite and isolate yourself?
3. Are you avoiding talking about it?
You might not be used to talking about your emotions with others. After all, it’s not the society most of us were raised in. However, if you feel like you can’t admit how you’re feeling to a close friend, you most likely won’t tell a mental health professional either.
4. Are you resisting treatment?
If you suspect you have depression but don’t want to speak to someone to get treatment, ask yourself why. If it’s stigma and fear of losing respect or love, remember that you can try therapy without telling anyone.
Common causes of depression in men
There’s rarely one root cause of depression. It can appear from a combination of factors, such as:
- Trauma or abuse.
- Stressful life events.
- Medical health conditions.
- History of drug or alcohol abuse.
- Loneliness or a lack of social support.
- Family history of mental health conditions.
- Emotionally unavailable parents or a difficult childhood.
Depression diagnosis in men
If these symptoms persist for over two weeks and interfere with your work, family, or social life, you might be diagnosed with depression:
- Irritability, mood swings, intolerance, or impatience.
- Little energy, motivation, enjoyment, or interest in things.
- Difficulty sleeping, speaking, or moving.
- Feeling worried, anxious, hopeless, helpless, guilt-ridden, or sad.
- Changes in appetite or weight, digestive issues, aches, and physical pain.
Does depression affect men differently than women?
Depression often appears differently in men, perhaps thanks to a mix of social stigma and biological factors. Men are more likely to show irritability, anger, aggression, and risky behavior. Meanwhile, women tend to show more sadness or hopelessness. Men are also more likely to avoid their pain with substances, which often exasperates symptoms.
One of the biggest concerns when it comes to depression in men is the danger of suicide. While women have more suicide attempts, men have more suicide deaths.
A combination of therapy, self-care, and medical help works well for mood disorders.
You’ll find plenty of advice on the internet telling people with depression to eat better, sleep more, exercise, and work on changing their negative thoughts. Except, those things might feel impossible to do when you have zero energy or motivation.
So instead, try thinking outside the box. What’s the smallest thing you can do that might create a domino effect to improve things? Maybe it’s just watching a comedy show before bed every night.
Or, if you’re overwhelmed, busy, and just avoiding your emotions, what about scheduling two days a week to let yourself feel totally depressed? After all, we all go through low periods of life, and sad emotions are a normal part of human nature. So instead of pressuring yourself to 'get over it,' why not allow yourself to be depressed?
Maybe your symptoms are just telling you it’s time to give yourself a break.
Plenty of research shows that different types of talk therapy sessions can improve clinical depression symptoms. This includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), or mindful-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). Just keep in mind that not every method or therapist will suit you. You might need to try a few different people until you find a good fit.
Learning self-compassion is also essential for mental health. To start, try downloading a self-compassion app with daily reminders to practice a new technique. For example, doing a short body scan meditation whenever tense or a two-minute meditation.
Even if you’re not interested in antidepressant medication, scheduling a check-up can make a world of difference in your symptoms. It may be that there’s an underlying medical condition affecting your mood. As much as going to the doctor might feel like a hassle, it might be all that you need to get the ball rolling in a healthier direction.
Helping your loved one
Feeling supported has the power to greatly improve our ability to cope. If you suspect someone you care about is experiencing depression, consider trying these tips:
- Listen without judgment. Create a safe space for them to express themselves by showing empathy and understanding.
- Watch how you speak. You might not realize that you’re being critical or unsupportive. Take some time to reflect on how you usually respond and think of ways to react with compassionate words and actions.
- Educate and take care of yourself. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of depression and how to best help the person you love. Meanwhile, make sure you’re still taking care of yourself so that you have the emotional capacity to be there for both of you.
- Become involved. Keep tabs on them while respecting their space and privacy. Try to offer support but if they don’t feel like talking, that’s okay. Think of other ways to be helpful, like taking care of their errands or spending quality time together. Just let them know you’re there for them whenever they need, and check in regularly.
In the end, while in the past you might’ve heard that old saying, “Be a man and hold it in," it’s time to recognize that doing so is incredibly unhelpful. Fortunately, society is finally accepting that we are all emotional and social beings. We all need to express ourselves freely to live a healthier life. Finally, remember that negative emotions are a part of the package. Sometimes, the ebbs hit harder than we’d like. But with practice, we can learn how to manage and cope with them better.
How do men tend to show symptoms of depression?
Men are more likely to show irritability, anger, aggression, and risky behavior. They may also have physical symptoms instead of sadness, like headaches and digestive issues.
Do men get angry when they are depressed?
Thanks to the social stigma that men should 'be strong' and avoid displaying sadness, it’s common for men to get angry when depressed. Holding emotions in can easily lead to outbursts of anger, frustration, impatience, and irritability.
Can you see if a person is depressed?
No, depression is not always noticeable. People often hide their symptoms and don't even realize it.
Depression often goes undiagnosed in men.
Men are less likely to show sadness. Instead, they usually display anger, frustration, irritability, and impatience.
Men are more likely to avoid their symptoms or get treatment.
With social support, self-compassion, professional treatment, and rest, symptoms often improve.
- American Journal of Men's Health. Gendered Manifestations of Depression and Help Seeking Among Men.
- Issues in Mental Health Nursing. Depression in Men: Issues for Practice and Research.
- JAMA Psychiatry. The Experience of Symptoms of Depression in Men vs Women. Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Depression: His Versus Hers.
- Frontiers in Psychiatry. Factors Related to the Level of Depression and Suicidal Behavior Among Men With Diagnosed Depression, Physically Ill Men, and Healthy Men.
- World Psychiatry. A network meta-analysis of the effects of psychotherapies, pharmacotherapies and their combination in the treatment of adult depression.
- Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Mechanisms of Change in the Relationship between Self-Compassion, Emotion Regulation, and Mental Health: A Systematic Review.