Depression in men: when it’s more than toughing it out.
How male stereotypes impact men’s mental health
Depression is a common mental illness. It impacts 350 million people worldwide. And it’s the leading cause of disability in both women and men. One of the main problems associated with depression is that it can keep people silent and isolated. The stereotype that men should be tough and not complain doesn’t help that.
As a licensed therapist, I have good news, though: You have the power to help. Start by learning a few important things about depression in men.
Why are men less likely to seek treatment for depression or mental illness?
Stereotypes and phrases like “boys don’t cry”, and “man up” can keep men from seeking help from others. This includes talking about feelings or emotions. We know that these views of masculinity are unhelpful and unrealistic. But they can still influence men’s decision to get mental health treatment. It’s the idea that “I should be able to pull myself up by my bootstraps and just handle this.”
It’s harmful to think of being independent and tough as more important than maintaining emotional well-being. There isn’t a lot of research suggesting that men are biologically wired to not seek help. Rather, a lot of the evidence shows that not asking for help is a learned behavior. It’s part of how men are socialized.
Is depression in men different than in women?
All people experience depression differently. So, men may experience depression differently than women, but they also may not. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that men may be more likely to struggle with low energy and anger. It could also cause decreased interest in usual activities.
NIMH suggests that sleep issues may also be more common in men with depression compared to women. Women are more likely to attempt suicide. But men are more likely to die by suicide, as they tend to choose more lethal methods.
What are some symptoms?
Symptoms of depression include:
- Low mood (feeling sad, empty, hopeless)
- Low energy or fatigue
- Decreased interest in usual activities (“I used to love wood-working. But I don’t have any motivation to do it anymore.”)
- Weight loss or gain that’s unintentional
- Hypersomnia or insomnia
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or inappropriate guilt
- Concentration difficulties or indecisiveness
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Irritation, agitation or anger
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts
People with severe depression may also experience psychotic symptoms. This could mean hallucinations or delusions. Symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time. This can lead to a loss of daily functioning.
Can medications or talk therapy help?
A combination of talk therapy and medications are most effective in treating depression. And treatment should be specific to your individual needs. Medicine can help with mental health symptoms. But you should speak to a doctor or a psychiatrist for formal medication evaluation. Medicine may not be necessary for everyone. But some people with depression do need them for recovery. HealthPartners and Park Nicollet offer behavioral health services that can help.
What’s next if medicine and talk therapy aren’t enough?
If depression is having a larger impact on a person’s day-to-day life, extra steps may be needed. Examples of this are if a person is no longer able to get out of bed or take care of their children. Then they may benefit from Partial Hospitalization Programs or Day Treatment. There are also residential treatment options for people with very severe depression. These services offer direct and intensive support for someone who is struggling. They can help someone get to a place where they are more functional in their daily lives.
Some may pose a safety risk to themselves or others. If someone is having thoughts of harm to themselves or others, they should be assessed right away at a hospital.
How can we help someone who might need help?
Communicate that it’s normal and positive to seek help for depression. Likening mental health issues to physical health issues can also be helpful. If you had diabetes or cancer, you’d see a medical professional. It’s no different with depression or any other mental health issue.
Parents should be careful about what they teach young boys about emotions or feelings, as well as what it means to be masculine.
Offer support like you would to anyone else who is struggling with depression. Listening and validating the person’s emotional experience is critical. 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. This is generally not received well. But it is important to offer to help someone access treatment.
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 for harm to themselves or others, call 911.
Mental illnesses are treatable health conditions common in the world today. They can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race or income. But people are still afraid to talk about them. There is a lot of shame, misunderstanding and fear of discrimination. The Make It OK campaign works to end that. Take the pledge and take a stand against mental illness stigma.
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About Emily Bulthuis, MSW, LICSW
Emily Bulthuis is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who provides individual therapy to adults. She works in Park Nicollet’s Behavioral Health department. Emily earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of St. Thomas. Emily enjoys partnering with her patients to support them in improving their quality of life and emotional well-being. Her specialties include co-occurring mental and chemical health disorders. She also works with family members of those struggling with mental health matters. In her free time, Emily enjoys listening to podcasts, cycling and spending time with her family and black lab, Lucky.