Mental health professionals, for many years, viewed depression as primarily a women’s disease. Less than 1 in 10, of the 11 million Americans diagnosed with clinical depression every year, were men. Women were in even larger percentage of people actively seeking treatment for this problem; also women made the majority of reported suicide attempts.
But there was one troubling statistic, a little hard to swallow, that 80 percent of the people who actually died by suicide were men, although there is stereotype of depression as a woman’s condition.
Researchers began to dig a little deeper, so it gradually became clear that depression is just as common among men, but men simply weren’t receiving or seeking treatment in proportion to their numbers. Many factors, including both biological differences and cultural stereotypes, made men and their health professionals less likely to report symptoms of depression or identify the problems they did report as symptoms of depression.
Quite a bit recently, this situation has changed, more than six million men were diagnosed with depression in last year. But many men and the people around them still may have trouble recognizing that their problems are caused by depression that needs to be treated.
Depression in men can look different. Most experts believe that although the basic symptoms of depression are very similar in women and men, men express them very differently. Here are the differences most often seen:
Depressed men are more likely to report and notice the physical symptoms of depression:
- Sleep problems (insomnia, sleeping more, trouble falling or staying asleep)
- Chronic muscle tension
- Changes in appetite (decreased or increased)
- Lack of energy
Depressed men are less likely to report and exhibit the emotional symptoms of depression. This may be due mostly to cultural stereotypes that view as “feminine” the expression of certain emotions. In some cases, men may be aware of their feelings of hopelessness, guilt and sadness, but feel compelled not to talk about them. In others, these feelings may be suppressed and go unrecognized. Depression may go unrecognized, in either case, because the tell-tale symptom of low mood appears to be missing.
Depressed men are more likely to display behavioral signs that are hardly recognized as signs of depression:
- Blaming others for problems
- Unusual degrees of anger, irritability and/or aggression
- Attempt to manage their moods by taking on more activities, like working overtime
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors such as gambling, compulsive sexual activity or dangerous sports
Depressed men are less likely to display the behavioral signs that are commonly associated with depression, such as loss of interest in usual activities, spontaneous crying and talk or thoughts of suicide or death.
Many women may experience the symptom patterns described above, just as men will experience the same basic symptoms common among women. These patterns are not rigid, and any given individual may experience a combination of “male” and “female” symptoms.
If you or someone you know seems to be experiencing or unexplained or unusual increases in the behavioral or physical problems mentioned above for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor. There’s a good chance that those problems are signs of depression, and effective treatments are available.