Men, It’s Time to Get Real About Depression: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Hear the word depression and you might conjure an image of a supreme sadness. In truth, men tend to experience depression differently from this typical image.

Women may be twice as likely as men to experience depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. But men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, according to a study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Men are also quicker to act on suicidal thoughts and are less likely to show warning signs. 

There are other differences as well. Compared to women, men suffering from depression are less likely to talk about how they’re feeling or even appear sad. “Our society dictates that men need to be strong. They have to always be in control and if you express feelings, it’s more of a female trait,” explains Buff Donovan, a licensed social worker and HAP's director of behavioral health. This means that men are more likely to delay treatment, allowing depression to worsen and become more difficult to treat.

Depression in men is unique in other ways as well. Among depressed men, the typical warning signs include:

  • Anger. Feelings of irritability, becoming short-tempered or overly sensitive, picking fights and even acting emotionally or physically abusive toward others.
  • Recklessness. Engaging in high-risk activities such as road rage, unsafe sex and compulsive gambling as well as self-medicating by excessive drinking, use of drugs, overeating, and marathon television viewing.
  • Losing yourself in your work. An inability to disengage from work.
  • Withdrawing from others.Spending more time alone and not participating in activities you typically enjoy.
  • Physical symptoms. Back pain, headaches, digestive problems, sleep problems and sexual difficulties can all occur with untreated depression.
  • Extreme fatigue. Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much. Problems with focus and concentration may also occur.

You Don’t Have to Feel Like This

Remember, depression is a medical illness. Just like you can’t recover from cancer by toughing it out, the same is true of depression. It’s also not something to be ashamed of. Many celebrated men (including Bruce Springsteen) are stepping forward to share their struggles. Start by talking with your doctor to rule out other conditions that mimic depression. You can also ask for a referral to a mental health professional or call HAP's Coordinated Behavioral Management Department at (800) 444-5755.

Here are some tips to get you on the road to recovery:

  • Talk with a professional. Therapy can help you learn to work through situations or relationship issues that trigger or worsen depression.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t take on too much while you’re working on feeling better.
  • Challenge negative thoughts. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones to get your brain on a more positive track.
  • Embrace a healthy lifestyle. Eliminate foods that bring you down such as sugary drinks and fast food and focus on eating a healthier diet. Spending time outdoors and exercising (even a 10-minute walk) will help boost the feel-good chemicals in your brain.
  • Take time for yourself. Make a point of putting the demands of the week on hold and regularly taking part in activities you enjoy.
  • Tell others how you’re feeling. It’s especially important that you don’t keep thoughts of suicide to yourself. “A history of attempts, along with certain changes in behavior (including feelings of hopelessness, increasing anxiety and panic attacks, and worsening substance abuse) may predict that someone is thinking of suicide,” cautions Dr. Kanchana Madhavan, medical director in HAP's Coordinated Behavioral Health Management department.
  • Monitor your medication. Antidepressants do work but it may take several weeks before you notice improvement. So give them a chance to work. Although they can have side effects, these tend to lessen over time. In rare cases, they can cause suicidal thoughts. If this happens, let your doctor know immediately.

My loved one or friend is depressed. What should I do?

Encourage him to talk about his feelings. Be careful not to ignore such comments as “You’d be better off without me.” Invite him to go to a game or movie with you. He may say no, but keep trying. “My husband said to one of his friends ‘I don’t see you at the bowling alley anymore. Let’s go,’ ” recalls Donovan. Opening up the dialogue was enough to get his friend talking about how down in the dumps he was feeling, she adds. With her husband’s encouragement, his friend agreed to see a therapist. 

The storm will pass

Recognize that a bad day does not equal a bad life and feelings of hopelessness will not be with you forever. “Treatment is very effective,” stresses Dr. Madhavan. “With so many advances in pharmacology and technology,” she adds, “there are treatment approaches that can fit any person seeking help.”

If you need help, contact HAP’s Coordinated Behavioral Management Department at (800) 444-5755.

Categories: Get Healthy

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