Health & Wellness Articles

Depression in Men: Why It's Different

It's Not Just a Woman's Disease

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For many years, mental health professionals viewed depression as primarily a women’s disease. Of the 11 million Americans diagnosed with clinical depression every year, less than 1 in 10 were men; and an even larger percentage of people actively seeking treatment for this problem were women. Likewise, the majority of reported suicide attempts were made by women.

But there was one troubling statistic that made this stereotype of depression as a woman’s condition a little hard to swallow—that 80 percent of the people who actually died by suicide were men.

As researchers began to dig a little deeper, trying to understand this apparent contradiction, it gradually became clear that depression is just as common among men, but men simply weren’t seeking or receiving treatment in proportion to their numbers. Many factors, including both cultural stereotypes and biological differences, made men less likely to report symptoms of depression, and their health professionals less likely to identify the problems they did report as symptoms of depression.

This situation has changed quite a bit recently. Last year, more than six million men were diagnosed with depression. But many men (and the people around them) may still have trouble recognizing that their problems are caused by depression that needs to be treated. Here are some things you need to know to avoid this problem.

Depression can look different in men.
Most experts believe that although the basic symptoms of depression are very similar in men and women, men express them very differently. Here are the differences most often seen:
  • Depressed men are more likely to notice and report the physical symptoms of depression:
    • Tiredness
    • Sleep problems (trouble falling or staying asleep, insomnia, sleeping more)
    • Lack of energy
    • Changes in appetite (increased or decreased)
    • Chronic muscle tension
       
  • Depressed men are less likely to exhibit and report the emotional symptoms of depression. This may be due mostly to cultural stereotypes that view the expression of certain emotions as “feminine." In some cases, men may be aware of their feelings of sadness, hopelessness and guilt, but feel compelled not to talk about them. In others, these feelings may be suppressed and go unrecognized. In either case, depression may go unrecognized because the tell-tale symptom of low mood appears to be missing.
     
  • Depressed men are more likely to display behavioral signs that aren't easily recognized as signs of depression:
    • Unusual degrees of irritability, anger, and/or aggression
    • Blaming others for problems
    • Alcohol and drug abuse
    • Attempt to manage their moods by taking on more activities, like working overtime
    • Engaging in high-risk behaviors such as dangerous sports, gambling, or compulsive sexual activity
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