Depression is a common mental health condition – it impacts 280 million people worldwide. Fortunately, treatment is very effective in most cases. But for men, getting diagnosed and treated for depression isn’t as common as it is for others. Keep reading to find out why this is, what symptoms of male depression look like and what you can do to help.
Why are men less likely to seek treatment for depression or mental illness?
The social norms around masculinity or “manliness” in the United States have traditionally focused on being strong, emotionally reserved and self-sufficient. This is where sayings like “boys don’t cry” and “man up” come from. We know now that this view of masculinity is unhelpful and unrealistic – it can cause men to see their own emotions and the act of asking for help as signs of personal weakness, rather than natural parts of being human.
But if you have come to value this view, knowingly or unknowingly, it can affect your mental health. This may look like:
- Masking symptoms – Sometimes it can be hard to admit how we really feel, even to ourselves. It’s common for men with depression to only focus on or report symptoms that overlap with those of other conditions, like headaches, digestive issues, sleep issues and irritability. Alternatively, you may find that you try to avoid your feelings through escapism or risky behavior.
- Avoiding the topic – Even when we suspect that something’s wrong, it can still be hard to talk about. This may stem from embarrassment or a fear of how people will see us.
- Resisting treatment – Some men believe that it’s their responsibility to handle their own issues, even when those issues are symptoms of a mental health condition. You may also believe that depression will go away with time. But in many cases, depression continues or gets worse without proper treatment.
Symptoms of depression in men
Being a man doesn’t mean that you experience depression differently from anyone else. However, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has found that depressed men may be more likely to struggle with low energy, anger and decreased interest in usual activities.
Men can also experience other common symptoms of depression, including:
- Low mood (feeling sad, empty, hopeless)
- Unintentional weight changes
- Hypersomnia(excessive sleepiness) or insomnia
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
Treating male depression
Generally, a combination of therapy, medicine and lifestyle changes is most effective for treating depression. The exact combination varies, because mental health professionals build treatment plans based on individual patients’ needs.
In cases where typical treatments aren’t effective, other treatments may be recommended. One example is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). In TMS, magnetic pulses are used to stimulate nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls mood, which is often underactive in people with depression. Many people describe it as feeling like a “tapping” in your head, and it has been proven to have an antidepressant effect on people with depression.
If your depression is severe enough that it’s significantly interfering with your day-to-day life, there are other inpatient and outpatient services that can help. The right combination can make sure that you have enough stability and support to make progress.
How can you help a man with depression?
The first step in helping men with depression is making male depression okay to talk about. If you’re talking to a man with depression, focus on the fact that depression isn’t a character trait or flaw. Depression isn’t a part of who someone is as a person. It’s a health condition, like diabetes or cancer, and getting treatment for a health condition is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s just what you do.
Also, be sure to offer support like you would to anyone else struggling with depression. It’s important to listen to and validate their experience. Sometimes, the way someone is feeling might not make sense to you, but you can still communicate that you hear them and respect what they’re saying or feeling. Avoid offering unsolicited advice, instead offer to help them access treatment.
For parents, normalizing mental health can start early. Teach kids how to take care of their mental health and encourage them to be open about their emotions. Have conversations with boys about what it means to be masculine. Show them that you accept and love them for who they are. This is valuable for several reasons. For one, it helps kids get their self-worth from within themselves, rather than from social norms. It also builds self-assurance and resilience that will help them navigate the challenges life brings. In addition, modeling this for kids helps them see value in other people for who they are, rather than how they compare to societal standards.
Finally, don’t ignore comments about suicide and self-harm. If someone is brave enough to share this with you, it’s their way of asking for support. Different counties have different numbers you can call for mental health crisis services. Many counties have mobile crisis teams. If someone is at risk of harming themselves or others, call 988.
Learn about which terms to use and which to avoid when talking about mental illnesses.
Don’t wait to get help
There’s a wide variety of resources available to people with mental health conditions. Crisis Connection (612-379-6363) and NAMI-MN are two that can help individuals and their loved ones.
And if you or someone you love is showing signs of depression or another mental health issue, make a primary care appointment. Your primary care doctor can answer your questions, recommend an initial treatment plan and refer you to a mental health specialist if necessary.