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Depression in Men: Why It's Different

It's Not Just a Woman's Disease

For many years, mental health professionals viewed depression as primarily a women’s disease. Of the 11 million Americans diagnosed with clinical depression every year, less than 1 in 10 were men; and an even larger percentage of people actively seeking treatment for this problem were women. Likewise, the majority of reported suicide attempts were made by women.

But there was one troubling statistic that made this stereotype of depression as a woman’s condition a little hard to swallow—that 80 percent of the people who actually died by suicide were men.

As researchers began to dig a little deeper, trying to understand this apparent contradiction, it gradually became clear that depression is just as common among men, but men simply weren’t seeking or receiving treatment in proportion to their numbers. Many factors, including both cultural stereotypes and biological differences, made men less likely to report symptoms of depression, and their health professionals less likely to identify the problems they did report as symptoms of depression.

This situation has changed quite a bit recently. Last year, more than six million men were diagnosed with depression. But many men (and the people around them) may still have trouble recognizing that their problems are caused by depression that needs to be treated. Here are some things you need to know to avoid this problem.

Depression can look different in men.
Most experts believe that although the basic symptoms of depression are very similar in men and women, men express them very differently. Here are the differences most often seen:
  • Depressed men are more likely to notice and report the physical symptoms of depression:
    • Tiredness
    • Sleep problems (trouble falling or staying asleep, insomnia, sleeping more)
    • Lack of energy
    • Changes in appetite (increased or decreased)
    • Chronic muscle tension
  • Depressed men are less likely to exhibit and report the emotional symptoms of depression. This may be due mostly to cultural stereotypes that view the expression of certain emotions as “feminine." In some cases, men may be aware of their feelings of sadness, hopelessness and guilt, but feel compelled not to talk about them. In others, these feelings may be suppressed and go unrecognized. In either case, depression may go unrecognized because the tell-tale symptom of low mood appears to be missing.
  • Depressed men are more likely to display behavioral signs that aren't easily recognized as signs of depression:
    • Unusual degrees of irritability, anger, and/or aggression
    • Blaming others for problems
    • Alcohol and drug abuse
    • Attempt to manage their moods by taking on more activities, like working overtime
    • Engaging in high-risk behaviors such as dangerous sports, gambling, or compulsive sexual activity
  • Depressed men are less likely to display the behavioral signs that are commonly associated with depression, such as spontaneous crying, loss of interest in usual activities, and thoughts or talk of death or suicide.
These patterns are not rigid. Many men will experience the same basic symptoms common among women, just as women may experience the symptom patterns described above. And any given individual may experience a combination of “male” and “female” symptoms.

If you or someone you know seems to be experiencing unusual or unexplained increases in the physical or behavioral problems mentioned above for two weeks or more, talk to your doctor. There’s a good chance that those problems are signs of depression, and effective treatments are available.

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Member Comments

  • A traumatic event I witnessed last year and loosing my love for teaching high school, just led to deeper depression. The signs were all there, the anger, the lack of motivation to do what I always liked doing. I finally sought out a therapist, I couldn't talk with anyone, don't know why. It has been almost a year. I refused the meds, but I found the time with the therapist was giving myself to see myself and some of what I could and what I couldn't do. When my therapist made the statement that she didn't know how I could deal with the amount of stress I was under. I realized that I needed to do what I could and learn not to stress over the things I had no control over. Seems obvious, but it wasn't to me. I feel much better but I still need to deal with life.
  • As we grow old, the beauty steals inward.
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Very informative! Thanks!
  • I hate to trivialize or excuse violence against women, but depression, it seems, can lead to violent behavior. Should it criminalized or treated?
  • Wouldn't know if I never read it!!
    i love all this articles you all recommented, now i'm ready to take actions if someone in my family, country, or friends have it....and i think the best treatment for this is to leave messages to our wonderful father,,, LET GOD HEAR YOUR ?ssss....
    GReat article. My husband finally admitted after many years of depression that he needed help and I was able to find him a great therapist. Within weeks he started to open up to family about his problems; seeing a dialogue outside of politics and weather was heart warming to see. He is making great progress and the therapist and I are trying to get my husband more involved in yoga to help him with his condition. My one complaint, I now have to share my yoga space and toys ... but I am happy to do it for such a good cause! Having a list of the symptoms would have helped me understand his condition sooner so I hope this article will help others as well.
    A friend's husband committed suicide several years ago, and she had no idea he was sufferering from depression. She was devastated after he died, and to this day, feels a tremendous amount of guilt for not seeing his problems and being able to prevent his death.
  • I had a grandson that killed himself, he needed help for a long but never wanted it, a life that was wasted.
    i just recently suffered from depression, I hurt my knee and i been out of work and i have been to a knee doctor and i am going to get a knee replacement and my doctor put me on medication for my anxiety and depression. I feel positive about the future and i am going to have my knee replacement the 18 th of oct this month and i am ready for this surgery and I am ready to rejoin the workforece , Confident and positive about the future and losing weight has helped me a lot.
  • The hardest thing was to admit to it. When I did it was like a load was lifted. It didn't fix things right away, but I felt like there was hope and the more I learn about it in men, the more I am finding my mates are suffering as well. Having the courage to speak out seems to give other men the courage to "come out" as it were.
    wow... my depression is manly! these are always my early symptoms... i believe that the emotional ones come from the tiredness caused by the sleep disruption, bad eating habits etc.