Published January 15, 2022
Depression can be difficult for anyone to discuss, as sufferers have to deal with not only their condition but also the stigma associated with it. This challenge can be even more profound for men. Many men who struggle with depression suffer silently for years, compounding their feelings of sadness with the frustration, anger, and guilt of seeming weak. And unfortunately, these feelings often hinder men from seeking treatment for their depression.
While the symptoms are similar across genders, there are some key differences in how depression manifests in men. For example, when men are depressed, they may tend to appear aggressive or angry instead of sad. Also, while women can often be more in tune with their emotions and recognize depression for what it is, it can be harder for men to identify it in themselves. They may be more likely to ignore or suppress their feelings, or to attribute them to something else.
Depression can disrupt men’s daily lives and negatively impact their physical health, interpersonal relationships, and careers. It can also be life-threatening, as depressed men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women ((By the numbers: Men and depression. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/12/numbers)). That’s why it’s vital that we understand the signs and sometimes unique symptoms of male depression.
In this article, we’ll explore how depression presents in men. We’ll also dive into the reasons why men and those around them often fail to recognize that they’re suffering from depression and the consequences this can have, as well as how to find effective treatment.
Men face a set of cultural expectations as to how they’re supposed to display (or not display) emotion. As such, they’re more prone to hide certain feelings for fear of being criticized or rejected. Whereas depression may show up in women as sadness, some men may be less comfortable with this expression. Men might express feelings of sadness as anger or aggression—which in turn makes depression harder to identify.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, what we go through mentally and emotionally can affect us physically. Men may notice the physical effects of depression ((Trivedi, M. H. (2004). The link between depression and physical symptoms. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(suppl 1), 12–16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC486942/)) first, and are more likely to go to the doctor for physical problems than emotional ones.
These are some of the most common physical indicators of depression in men:
These symptoms may occur due to changes in brain function caused by depression, or they may result from other disruptions depression can bring, such as changes in eating habits or sleep. Fortunately, getting treatment for depression can provide relief from its physical and psychological effects.
Early indicators of depression in men ((Signs of depression in men: What to know. (2019, January 29). https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324312)) might include anger, aggression, irritability, and frustration. Since feelings lead to actions, behavioral signs might also appear:
According to one survey analysis published in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry, these self-destructive reactions are often the consequence of men lashing out in an attempt to hide their depression ((Martin, L. A., Neighbors, H. W., & Griffith, D. M. (2013). The experience of symptoms of depression in men vs women: Analysis of the national comorbidity survey replication. JAMA Psychiatry, 70(10), 1100–1106. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1985)).
A combination of factors can cause depression in men:
Financial difficulties, the death of a loved one, relationship problems, major life changes, professional challenges, or any other stressful circumstance may trigger depression in certain men. Likewise, lacking the skills to cope successfully with stressors can worsen their emotional state.
Depression can result from medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease. It can also exacerbate these issues, and vice versa. Medications used to treat these conditions might sometimes have adverse effects that induce or aggravate depression symptoms.
Men with a family history of depression may be more prone to develop the condition.
Loneliness can be harmful to your mental health if it lasts for a long period of time. Loneliness has been linked to increased risk for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, sleep disorders, and stress.
Men who incurred abuse or trauma during childhood may experience severe depression as adults.
Men who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse may be at risk for developing severe depression. Depression is also a risk factor for substance abuse, as sufferers may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This combination of depression and substance abuse is known as a co-occurring disorder and requires specialized treatment. In this case, it’s best to seek comprehensive therapy that addresses both issues.
The possible causes of male depression are as unique as each individual. There are also a number of reasons why men or their loved ones may not recognize their depression.
The reasons men may ignore, hide, or simply be unable to see their depression for what it is can be complex. Emotional or behavioral indicators of depression in males might be misinterpreted as negative personality attributes. And because men are culturally conditioned to believe that expressing emotions connected with depression is wrong, many therefore strive to repress them. Even those who do recognize they’re depressed may avoid seeking treatment for fear of damaging their reputation among colleagues, family, or friends.
As mentioned earlier, men often use alcohol or drugs to escape from their daily struggles or to cope with overwhelming symptoms of depression.
Co-occurring substance abuse can add to the challenge of treating men with depression. The two conditions can fuel each other’s negative cycles, ramping up behavioral consequences like aggression and risk-taking. This, in turn, can cause significant negative results in a man’s relationships, employment, and physical health.
Effectively treating male depression can be lifesaving. Depression can cause people to feel powerless and hopeless, putting some at a dangerous risk for suicide.
If you’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for confidential assistance from a trained counselor. If you or someone you love is in immediate danger, call 911.
Untreated depression can last for months or years. And in addition to the day-to-day suffering it brings, it can also put men at risk of serious, long-term consequences.
According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, scientists have known for many years that there’s a link between depression and heart disease ((Heart disease and depression: A two-way relationship | NHLBI, NIH. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2017/heart-disease-and-depression-two-way-relationship)). Depression affects at least a quarter of all cardiac patients, and people with depression are more likely to develop heart disease.
In addition, depression and stress damage the immune system, ((Stress weakens the immune system. (n.d.). Https://Www.Apa.Org. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune)) and as mentioned earlier, can lead to several other physical ailments.
Families are profoundly affected when a loved one suffers from untreated depression. Family members may carry guilt around the situation, believing they did something to cause it or could have done more to help. They might also feel fearful about their loved one’s wellbeing, or anxious because they’re empathizing with his pain. Or, they might feel like they’re walking on eggshells due to his unpredictable moods.
Those struggling with severe depression might find intensive treatment at a residential depression treatment center to be helpful.
Many residential rehab centers treat not only addiction, but also mental health issues like depression. If depression impairs your ability to function in daily life, you may find relief in a residential rehab’s higher level of care. Inpatient depression treatment allows you to devote your full attention to your recovery for an extended period. In inpatient treatment, you’ll receive treatment in an immersive therapeutic setting, with 24/7 access to staff. Most luxury rehabs also offer aftercare programming to help you transition to life back home and maintain your progress and lifestyle changes after inpatient care.
Some luxury rehabs offer gender-specific programming, which can help with a few aspects of treatment:
Following are a few examples of depression rehabs with programs designed specifically for men:
This men-only residential center in Cave Creek, Arizona serves men between the ages of 30 and 80, and happily accommodates executive clientele. Their depression treatment program focuses on the emotional challenges that men, in particular, face. Their campus in the “shadow of the saguaro” offers expansive natural beauty and amenities such as a putting green, fire pit, and farm-to-table meals to help men rediscover their appreciation for life’s simple joys.
This Riverside, California rehab offers a men-only track aimed at helping clients practice skills like managing their feelings and tolerating discomfort in a safe emotional space. Their clinical team explains this approach: “We believe that treatment should recognize the differences in how [mental health] affects men and women. As a result, we offer gender-specific treatment to ensure that everyone who begins their recovery journey with us receives the most effective care that is focused on the issues that are most relevant to them.”
This dual-diagnosis treatment center in Colorado Springs, Colorado offers a men’s inpatient program aimed at allowing clients to address gender-specific issues while strengthening bonds between peers. Clients live in one of 3 separate homes on their 12.5-acre campus, surrounded by Rocky Mountain scenery that inspires self-connection.
Depression is a serious, life-altering disorder. It’s critical to understand that this persistent sadness is not a sign of weakness. It’s a real illness, and it requires proper treatment.
Recognizing the signs of depression, learning more about your condition and what you can do to treat it, and reaching out to a facility for an assessment are the first steps towards taking back your life.
Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod