Depression in Men
It is estimated that for every six people, one will be clinically diagnosed with depression. In real terms the figures for depression are likely to be much higher and a good proportion of those left undiagnosed will be men.
Depression has previously, if wrongly, been thought of as a problem mostly affecting women (and something to do with hormones). In fact rates of depression between males and females are roughly similar during childhood and differences begin to emerge more strongly during adolescence and into adulthood. Whilst it may be tempting to identify puberty as the reason for the gender differences in depression, significant hormonal fluctuations in women are actually quite brief and clearly associated with an event, such as depression following childbirth.
When it comes to emotional expression, men and women differ considerably. It is not that men are incapable of the same range of emotions as women so much as the kinds of emotions men express are socialised from a very early age. The male stereotype is very often rooted in issues of power and control. It follows that the more negative emotions associated with these are anger, pride, jealousy and aggression. Emotional expression of say, sadness, grief and depression are considered female qualities and therefore not something a real man needs to deal with. Very often the men who are most strongly socialized into the male stereotype find the greatest difficulty in acknowledging, articulating or coping with depression.
Depression in men is slowly becoming more recognized, but is often difficult to spot the symptoms even by long-term partners or health professionals. Men exhibit depression differently and the way they cope can often camouflage their state of mind. So, whilst there is no strong evidence for a different type of depression in men, some symptoms of depression are much more marked. In particular irritability, anger, loss of control, risk-taking and aggression. Other gender differences in depression are:
- On average, the onset of depression is often later in men.
- Men have less chance of recurrent depression.
- Men seem to experience shorter bouts of depression and are less likely to suffer from chronic depression.
The onset, course and nature of depression in men may also differ in terms of whether they are adolescent, middle-aged or elderly and the life circumstances that affect them at various ages.
Depression is a significant risk factor for suicide and whilst women attempt suicide more often, men are more successful at their first attempt. Men in the age range of 16-24 and 39-54 appear most likely to commit suicide but the reasons why are not really understood. Depression is also a risk factor for heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
What Places Men at Risk of Depression
The precise cause of depression is not really known but current thinking points towards a likely combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. For men, the most commonly reported risk factors relate to:
- Work stress: especially role ambiguity, night shifts, holding down more than one job.
- Relationship breakdown: Divorced men are most likely to commit suicide.
- Fatherhood: Men also experience depression after the birth of a baby.
- Unemployment: the role of men can dramatically shift from that of breadwinner to dependent. This can similarly affect retired men.
- Bereavement: which can lead to diversions such as work and an escalation of risky activities, drinking, anger and frustration.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men
There are a number of potential markers to indicate that a man may be depressed. Men are more likely to externalise their depression and may fixate on activities like work. They are prone to turn to alcohol or drugs, which can lead to dangerous or risky activities. Relationships start to suffer as men prefer to ignore questions about their behavior or mental state. As the partner becomes more concerned, the situation becomes more tense and men begin to withdraw more and more.
Sexual drive in depressed men tends to decrease although in some cases sexual activity increases in an attempt to feel better. Some of the symptoms of depression will be exactly the same as women, but the nature of depressive symptoms in men does differ. For example:
- Feeling down, worthless, and tired.
- Easily irritated, frustrated and wanting to hit out.
- Loss of weight.
- Lack of interest in friends, family, relationships.
- Increase in risky activities like affairs, fast driving.
- Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs.
- Headaches, digestive problems.
Most people with depression respond positively to treatment, which may be antidepressant medication, psychological therapies or a combination of the two. Remember that some physical conditions can cause depression, so get checked out.
Jerry Kennard is a psychologist & co-founder of www.embarrassments.co.uk