It’s not my problem,” reflects the view many men have of depression. Despite the fact that six million men are entangled by its symptoms every year, depression is often viewed by men as an illegitimate idea or a “woman’s problem.” Because depression bears this stigma, men can easily disregard it as a viable explanation for the way they are feeling or even be unaware that there is such a problem. If left untreated, depression can have multiple long-term physical, relational and personal consequences, and the likelihood that it will result in suicide for men is four times greater than that of women. However, depression is treatable, and up to 80 percent of its sufferers see improvement in the first two months following treatment. A willingness to understand and address depression is the first step towards change.
Learn More About Depression in Men
By Joel Harris
One of the defining characteristics of depression is the feeling of helplessness, and men can be left feeling this way by any number of triggers. The stress to perform well at work or the stress involved with losing or finding a job in a struggling economy can seem overwhelming. The responsibilities involved with caring and providing for children, a spouse or aging parents can also cause diffi culty. Other common triggers for depression in men include financial strain, the possibility of retirement, or the failure to reach certain goals. Some studies have shown that conflict between spouses can contribute to depression. According to Dr. Kent Grotefendt of Memorial Family Medicine in Ooltewah, divorce and separation from family members are among the leading causes for depression. Because men often lack the tools to discuss their emotions and are culturally taught to believe it is a sign of weakness, they are often unable or unwilling to ask for help when they feel depressed.
Since a man’s experience with depression often differs from that of a woman’s, his symptoms and methods of coping are often different. There is no definitive reason for the differences, but they are most likely due to a combination of brain physiology, social development and life experiences. Men are more likely than women to see depression as a sign of being weak or vulnerable, and their symptoms and coping mechanisms will often be expressed in ways that counteract those feelings.
Some men will show their symptoms by acting out through anger and aggression, while others will choose to withdraw and isolate themselves. Women are often more likely to express sadness or feel apathetic in the midst of depression, while the inward struggle in men can be expressed in outward responses such as irritability or hostility. Depression has been labeled the “underside of anger,” and when men are left feeling powerless because of depression, anger and aggression can be ways of feeling in control again.
However, symptoms of depression in men can also be internalized rather than expressed. Men are more likely than women to isolate themselves from their relationships and less likely to seek talk-therapy.
Depression can also manifest itself physically in men. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men often have no idea that depression can contribute to chronic pain or head and stomach aches. Other physical symptoms of depression might include weight loss, constant tiredness or lack of energy.
However, the most common symptom of depression (shared by both men and women) is a general loss of interest in work or hobbies. Normal activities that once brought pleasure become hard work. For example, if a man begins to find that finishing a project at work brings no sense of accomplishment or his fishing trip is substituted for a weekend on the couch, it could be a sign that depression has set in.
When men consistently find themselves unable to enjoy life, they often resort to unhealthy coping strategies. If depression has not taken a toll on physical functioning, it can be channeled into escapist behaviors like overwork-ing or staying constantly involved in exercise and sports. While women often look to friends or romantic relationships as ways of coping, men often move towards watching TV, eating unhealthily or engaging in high-risk behaviors like substance abuse or unsafe sex. The use of alcohol or prescription drugs is also common as it provides temporary relief from the weight of life’s responsibilities.
Depression can take a heavy toll on men’s relationships. Men who struggle with depression are more prone to express their frustration physically, leading to less communication about their emotions. Men may also be afraid to seek help because of what their spouse, coworkers, friends or employers may think of them. All these factors may lead to further isolation and disengagement from relationships, and only perpetuate destructive coping mechanisms and depressive symptoms.
Due to its impact both emotionally and physically, depression often affects a couple’s sex life by putting a damper on sexual desire, performance and satisfaction. It can also be a key factor in the loss of relationships. A depressed person’s negative state of mind can make it difficult for him to see the change in his own personality or relationship. However, men will often find that their biggest influence in getting help for depression is the support of their partner or spouse.
Hope and Help
There are many successful ways in which depression can be treated. Studies have shown that a combination of therapy (such as cognitive- behavioral therapy) and antidepressant medication has the greatest long-term impact on healing depression. “Most depression and anxiety problems are treated by primary care physicians, and counseling can be done through a local psychologist or crisis centers,” Dr. Grotefendt says. He adds that depression is highly treatable through different medications that boost the presence of neurotransmitters like dopamine or serotonin. These neurotransmitters are depleted when stress increases, and are used up quicker than they can be produced.
It is also important for men struggling with depression to continue participating in physical activities and setting goals for the future. Finally, dealing with depression requires a number of traits that many men may find attractive: perseverance, resilience and courage. Embracing these traits can help men restore their sense of purpose, and coupled with professional help, can make recovery possible and timely.
Joel Harris is a mental health technician from Chattanooga, Tenn. He graduated from Covenant College with a degree in psychology and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in counseling from Richmont Graduate University.