While men and women both experience depression, their symptoms may seem different. Men may display more anger or aggressive behavior, expressing their depression outward. Family, friends, and even medical professionals may not see these symptoms as depressive symptoms; and let’s be honest, even if they did and told the man so, most likely he would deny it and not seek treatment for it. Men may attribute it to some external factor like problems at work or financial stress, therefore they won’t readily accept they need to talk with someone about depression.
What is depression?
Depression is a common but serious mood disorder that affects the ability to feel, think, and handle daily activities. Clinical or Major Depressive Disorder must have symptoms present for 2 weeks to confirm the diagnosis.
(Click the link below for more information about depression)
As I mentioned earlier, men experience depression differently than women. The following are some examples of signs or symptoms for men to consider:
- Escapist behavior, such as spending a lot of time at work or on sports
- Irritability or inappropriate anger
- Controlling or violent or abusive behavior
- Risky or reckless behavior like excessive speeding or disobeying traffic laws, road rage, etc.
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
- Common depressive symptoms: feeling sad, hopeless, empty, feeling extremely tired, difficulty sleeping, little to no pleasure in activities
- Focusing on more physiological symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, tiredness, long-term pain issues, etc.
- Downplaying these signs and symptoms, making some other excuses as reasons for the way they feel, externalizing emotional pain
- Reluctance to discussing depressive symptoms (difficulty trusting to open up)
- Resistance to mental health treatment (stigma-men don’t ask for help)
Whether you seek treatment or not, men should be honest with themselves about how they are feeling or what they are thinking. Sometimes it is difficult to accept that you are not feeling as well as you would like, and may even be embarrassed to say something to someone. The following are some coping skills to consider while you are sorting out these thoughts and feelings:
- Set realistic goals and prioritize. Know your limits and do not go past them. When you are feeling overwhelmed, usually it is because you have taken on more than you can handle. It’s not macho to pile everything on and take care of things yourself–it’s foolish! Identify the top 3 things that need to be addressed and ONLY focus on those three things. Once you have a better handle on them, you can address other issues on your list.
- Seek out emotional support. You would be surprised who your support network is; all you have to do is ask. Reach out to someone you trust and mention to them that you are having a difficult time, and ask if they would mind if you vented to them. Who knows, it may really help, and next time you will be the one they come to!! More people relate to what you are going through then not, so reach out to someone.
- Learn ways to alleviate stress. This is extremely important, often times the depressive symptoms you are experiencing are the result of significant unaddressed stress. Massage, meditation, yoga, physical activity like sports or weight lifting, progressive relaxation exercises, etc. are some stress relieving activities to consider.
- Live healthy lifestyle. This encompasses many different areas like proper diet and nutrition, regular exercise, adequate sleep, socialization with people who are positive influences (and not those who are steeped in negativity), etc.
Men have been sex-role-stereotyped to be the “strong silent type”: don’t express feelings, tough it out, be self-confident and aggressive, “fix things”, physically imposing, sexually experienced, driven. These societal and cultural norms create rigid beliefs about masculinity that are misguided and maladaptive to modern-day living. This creates undue pressure not only for the men but for the women who have to deal with them!! If more men would be honest and open about their feelings (and be willing to address them), there would be significantly less conflict and significantly more understanding.
I have worked with a number of men in my practice, as well as known some personally, who have (or should have been) diagnosed with depression. I too have experienced depression and probably have been Dysthymic for years.
Dysthymia: a mild but long-term form of depression. I describe it, non-clinically, as chronic “low-grade dumpiness”. I told you it wasn’t clinical! It’s not Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh level, but it could go there. What is most noticeable is irritability, low frustration tolerance, and physical tension from the shoulders to the head.
I notice the more irritable (or depressed) men are the more judgemental they are, and the more absolute their thinking is (black or white, right or wrong). “Only the Sith deal in absolutes”…sorry Star Wars reference there. But this absolute thinking could lead someone down a dark path, maybe not Darth Vader territory. There is an increased level of inflexibility, and/or an inability to consider alternate viewpoints and ideas. It is difficult for people to communicate with them because they do not want to be vulnerable, or exposed as “less than a man”. They may appear unreasonable, but in reality they are trying to keep the attention away from what is really going on…their depression.
Men will focus more on external issues that may not actually affect them personally or express negative thoughts that serve no other purpose but to accentuate the irritability (or depression) they are feeling. Sometimes it may come off as humor or sarcasm, but there is truth and anger mixed in. How can you tell if it is just joking behavior versus passive-aggressive sarcastic behavior? You can tell by who or what the humor is directed at. When it is directed at a “them”, to me it is an attempt to joke at someone or something else’s expense. I don’t find that funny, I see that as someone’s way of “lightly” expressing their dissatisfaction or displeasure with that person or thing. (Now, I am not referring to stand-up comedians or satire, although they could take things too far as well)
When I see people using self-deprecating humor, laughing at themselves, or including themselves in the joke, I find that to be more relatable humor. (Now of course, when I see people constantly putting themselves down “humorously”, that to me is not funny either). I believe we have to use humor to get through the rigors of our lives, it is essential, but how one uses it is significant. People who use humor or sarcasm to express themselves, especially about other people, are very likely masking some internal struggle they have not or are not willing to address.
When men understand what is going on with themselves internally, they feel the weight of the world being lifted, they feel more understood, and are less likely to be irritable and angry…and less depressed. It is not a sign of weakness for men to talk with someone about their mental health. In fact, it is the complete opposite; it is a sign of internal strength to admit one cannot manage the stressors of their world by themselves. About 2/3 of my clientele are male, and almost every one of them had a different view of therapy leaving than they did when they first came in (mostly positive!).