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Impacts of Depression on Men

Why It’s Often Misunderstood, Untreated and Potentially Serious

More than 5% of men in the United States suffer from depression.

Though a serious medical condition, depression is often treatable. And yet, nearly 60% of American adults living with mental illness do not receive treatment.

Men, in particular, are less willing to address symptoms of depression. “Men tend to minimize symptoms more than females do, and are more prone to push through negative feelings,” states Danesh A. Alam, MD, medical director of Behavioral Health Services at Central DuPage Hospital. Yet, “the longer depression goes untreated, the more severe the episodes can get.”

Severe episodes of depression can lead to suicidal ideation. And while women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die from suicide. Suicide now is among the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Signs of Depression in Men

Symptoms of depression in men may be less obvious than they are in women. For example, men with depression may show anger or aggression rather than a more recognizable symptom like sadness. Other red flags for depression among men include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lower energy levels
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of concentration
  • Decreased interest in work, family or sexual activity

These symptoms can then manifest as other issues, including avoidance behavior, substance use disorder and addiction. Because men are less likely to discuss their feelings than women, they may cope with symptoms by retreating inward and self-medicating. In fact, 4.1 million men in the United States have concurrent issues with mental disorders and substance use. It becomes a vicious cycle: individuals who feel hopeless may turn to alcohol or other substances as a way to escape their negative emotions.

The Stigma of Depression

Although mental disorders are increasingly talked about in today’s society and becoming less of a stigma, men still report feeling pressured by male stereotypes to appear immune to emotional pain. Men are more willing to see a physician regarding physical symptoms of depression, such as a tight chest and increased heart rate, than to address mental health needs.

“When men feel their symptoms have something to do with willpower or weakness, this can create internal resistance to seek help,” states Dr. Alam. However, he says, great strength and benefit can come from early detection.

How You Can Help

If you suspect a man in your life has depression, be patient and offer nonjudgmental support. Avoid using medical terminology and focus on his symptoms. Listen carefully and never ignore comments about suicide. Tell him he is not alone. Invite him outside for physical activities like hiking or walking.

If symptoms persist beyond a two-week period, gently encourage him to find professional support. His primary care physician should be able to help him find the care he needs. With treatment, most people are able to manage their depression, improve well-being and enjoy a better quality of life.

It starts with asking for help.

If you or someone in your life is thinking about suicide, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800.273.8255.

Northwestern Medicine Behavioral Health Services

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