Women talk, but men suffer in silence. At least, that’s the stereotype. But it is hard for many men to open up about their mental health – even when they’re really struggling. Depression in men can easily be missed, since their symptoms – and coping mechanisms – can be different to those typically reported by women. So if you want to know how to help a man with depression, first you need to know what to look for.
Because it’s harder to spot, depression in men often goes undiagnosed, which can have devastating consequences: suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45. 19 November is International Men’s Day – so it’s a good time to check in with the men in your life. Because recognising and tackling depression in men can save lives.
Important: If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention helpline.
What is depression?
Depression isn’t the same as being unhappy. Feelings of being sad, down or fed up are normal, and happen to all of us from time to time. But if these feelings persist for weeks or months, or if they interfere with daily life, it may be depression. Sadness, like all human emotions, will pass. Depression doesn’t budge.
The good news is that, with the right treatment and support, most people with depression make a full recovery. Options include therapy and self-help tools. Find out how to get started with My Online Therapy – or check out our Self-care audio course ‘Deal with Depression’ for lots of information, approaches and practical tips.
Men and mental health – why male depression may go undiagnosed
Men and women don’t necessarily experience depression – or deal with it – in the same way. Is this because of brain chemistry, hormones, life experiences, socialisation or culture? It’s not entirely clear – but it’s likely to be a complex mix of biological and lifestyle factors. Male depression can be harder to spot – and treat – because of:
- Symptoms. These may present differently in men. They may become irritable, angry, isolated or withdrawn – rather than show more obvious signs of sadness.
- Coping mechanisms. The way men cope with depression may also be different. Have you noticed a man in your life drinking more or working all hours? It’s possible he’s depressed.
- Reluctance to seek help. It may be a stereotype – but there’s evidence to back up the commonly held belief that men are reluctant to visit their GP, let alone a therapist! According to a 2015 mental health survey of 1,000 men, 40% of men won’t talk to anyone about their mental health. Furthermore, many men may have been raised to believe that ‘self-control’ is important, or that they shouldn’t talk openly about their feelings. This isn’t helpful when vital mental health support is needed.
- Tendency to downplay symptoms. It can be hard for anyone to recognise – or admit to – depression. And it may be tempting to downplay or trivialise it. Research shows that the main reason men won’t speak to their GP simply because they’re worried about wasting their time. But depression is a genuine, serious condition. Ignoring it or masking it with unhealthy behaviours can make things worse.
Depression in men is very common. But because it can present differently, it can be underestimated. That’s why studies that use traditional measures of depression tend to conclude that depression is more common in women. But a 2013 study in JAMA Psychiatry that used a ‘gender inclusive depression scale’ – which includes symptoms such as rage and risk-taking – found that depression was more common in men, with 30.6% of men experiencing an episode of depression in their lifetime.
Male depression – signs and symptoms to watch out for
While everyone’s experience of depression is unique, ‘classic’ symptoms include persistent feelings of sadness and low mood, losing interest in things that you normally enjoy, lack of energy and sleeping difficulties. Men can experience all of these too. But there may also be other signs, symptoms and coping strategies to watch out for:
- Working all hours. Has a man in your life suddenly become a workaholic? Spending a lot of time at work can be a way to distract from or avoid difficult feelings.
- Spending a lot of time on sports. This seems counterintuitive – since depression can make us withdraw from social groups and feel lethargic, and exercise can help recovery. But spending excessive time at work, on sports or on other activities may all be forms of ‘escapist behaviour’ that are used to avoid the issue.
- Drinking too much. Problems with alcohol or drug use can also be a sign that a man is struggling with depression. It may be an unhealthy coping strategy used to mask the problem.
- Irritability or anger. Men may display these emotions, rather than feelings of sadness or hopelessness. This can even tip over into rage, violent behaviour or abuse.
- Risky behaviour. This may, for example, include reckless driving.
If you’ve noticed any of these signs in a man in your life, it’s possible that he’s suffering from depression. But professional help is essential to get an accurate diagnosis – and treatment. Fortunately, depression is very treatable – and most people will recover well. But there are ways you can help too.
5 ways you can help a man with depression
There are lots of ways you can help – and see our previous post on how to support someone with depression for some more general tips. When it comes to looking after the men in your life, some of the things you can do are:
- Be receptive. Let him know that you’re there for him. Just being open and available can help enormously. Bear in mind the stigma around mental health difficulties, which can make it hard for men to acknowledge depression.
- Encourage him to get help. Because many men are reluctant even to see a GP, reassure him that depression is a very common experience for men, and that it’s OK to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength, not weakness. And there are many sources of help available, including GPs, therapists, online forums, self-help books and resources such as our Self-care audio course ‘Deal with Depression’.
- Find a support group. There are also many support groups available, some specifically for men. Research local groups in your area. Mind has an online directory of peer support groups in England and Wales.
- Take any mention of suicide seriously. Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45, and 75% of all UK suicides are male. So if a man in your life makes any mention of thoughts of suicide, take it seriously. Prioritise getting help for him – and consider contacting a suicide prevention helpline.
- Take care of yourself too. Supporting someone with depression can take its toll – so make sure you consider your own wellbeing too. Set some boundaries, and make sure you block out some ‘me time’ that’s just for you.
Depression in men may be harder to spot, present in different ways, and be masked by unhealthy coping behaviours. It often goes undiagnosed – and can have devastating consequences when it goes untreated. But help is available, and male depression usually gets better with treatment. And you can be a good ally to the men in your life by checking in on them and offering support.