Depression in Men: Why It's Different

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
  • Depressed men are less likely to display the behavioral signs that are commonly associated with depression, such as spontaneous crying, loss of interest in usual activities, and thoughts or talk of death or suicide.
These patterns are not rigid. Many men will experience the same basic symptoms common among women, just as women may experience the symptom patterns described above. And any given individual may experience a combination of “male” and “female” symptoms.

If you or someone you know seems to be experiencing unusual or unexplained increases in the physical or behavioral 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.
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Member Comments

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Watching for signs in my husband. Report
How does depression and PSTD differ? Report
thanks Report
Oh yes, I have been that man for most of my adult life. Medications help, but I've got to keep an eye out on symptoms and intentionally do things to wash those problems right off my hands before they spread. It was helpful to learn 2 decades ago that for my kind of Depression it is as medical as a broken leg bone, while a bone usually heals eventually.

Please consider looking at yourself and/or the men in your life. It took me a long time for me to get a diagnosis. I'm 60 years old, and I've suffered for 40 years. It was a relief to know if wasn't just me behaving badly.

No, St. John's Wort doesn't help my kind of depression. Report
Ive only recently begun feeling comfortable talking about my own depression, and even then its only with close friends ---- but then again it's not something you're going to go blabbing to everyone about Report
very good article and acurate Report
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Good to know, Thanks! Report
Excellent read. Good need-to-know information! Report
I took the time to reflect back and recognize that I have a slight case of depression at times. Report
Good article. Report
Great article... I hope it reaches a lot of people, especially those who think depression is some sort of motivational issue and believe the individual can just pull himself or herself out of it by sheer force of will. That attitude, and the stigma and shame of depression, is what keeps so many people suffering in silence. Report
Great tips! Thanks! Report