The antiquated idea that real men don’t cry is as realistic as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The fact is everyone has emotions, and yes, even men can suffer from depression. In some cases, depression can be a serious medical condition and, if it’s not treated as such, can lead to host of problems in a person’s life.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 322 million people worldwide suffer from depression. The National Institute of Mental Health’s statistics show that in 2017, 64% of people who suffered a major depressive episode had impairment as well.
Gagandeep Singh, MD, is the chief medical officer for Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. He says that, in the United States, somewhere between 5-12% of men suffer from depression during their lifetime. He helps us better understand what depression in men might look like.
Depression in men
When it comes to depression in men, it usually starts to manifest in early adulthood, but Dr. Singh notes it is becoming more common in adolescence. Rates for depression are highest in men for the 35 to 49 age group with 2.9% of men reporting feeling depressed during the prior 30-day period. Men in the age group 50 to 64 report depression at a rate of 2.8%, and men between the ages of 18 and 34 report depression at a rate of 2.4%. Only 0.2% of men over the age of 65 report feeling depressed in the prior 30-day period, but Dr. Singh notes the symptoms may be more severe in older adults.
The signs for depression in men are typically the same as women experience. Dr. Singh says men will have:
- Low mood
- Loss of interest in things
- Problems with sleep, appetite, energy and sex drive
- Changes in how he thinks, such as more hopelessness, negative and guilt-ridden thoughts and thoughts of suicide
“I see men having irritability associated with their depression more often,” Dr. Singh said. “Men do not recognize feeling sad as often.”
What causes depression?
Depression is an illness and can have several contributing factors—just like other illnesses. Those contributing factors can be a combination of biological, psychological and social factors, according to Dr. Singh.
Dr. Singh notes biological risk factors include genetic tendencies to depression, physical health problems and substance abuse, which can affect brain chemistry.
“Psychologically some of us are more prone to depression in terms of how we react to stress,” Dr. Singh said. “Social stressors, especially isolation, can contribute as well.”
How do you treat depression?
If you think your loved one is suffering from depression, there are things that you can do to help. Dr. Singh says the first thing you can do is to ensure they get help from a professional. You can also help them make lifestyle changes, including eating right, exercising and connecting with others.
Dr. Singh says more mild forms of depression can be helped by lifestyle changes, including eating right, exercising, spending time with others and avoiding things that can make the condition worse. Dr. Singh specifically notes drugs, alcohol, a lack of sleep and increased stress as things that make depression worse.
When the depression becomes more severe, doctors can also suggest psychotherapy or talk therapy. Additionally, doctors may recommend medications along with lifestyle changes and talk therapy.
For severe depression which doesn’t respond to other methods, doctors may consider neuromodulation, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
Any discussion about depression should also cover suicide because it is an increasing problem. In fact, during the 16-year period from 2001 to 2017, NIMH statistics show the rate of suicide in the United States increased 31%, from 10.7 people per 100,000 to 14 per 100,000.
For men during that same period, the numbers paint an even darker picture: men are 4 times more likely than women to commit suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported nearly 70% of all suicide deaths were male.
If you’ve ever wondered why someone would commit suicide, Dr. Singh says it is a complex issue.
“Ultimately, it is a mix between intense psychological pain, hopelessness and isolation,” Dr. Singh said. “Often, removal of protections offered by social connection or disinhibition by drug or alcohol use can tip the balance towards suicide.”
How you can help
Because people don’t wear banners listing their intentions, it’s up to all of us to make sure the men we know are not having suicidal thoughts.
If you know a friend or loved one is going through a tough time in life, it’s OK and very appropriate to ask them if they’ve thought about suicide or have intentions of hurting themselves.
If a guy tells you he has thought about ending his life and you feel it could happen soon, have them seek help in the nearest Emergency room or call the national suicide hot line at 1-800-273-8255 right away. If you feel that he isn’t going to act quickly, there are a few things you should do:
- Make sure they get help or professional evaluation as soon as possible
- Make sure they find a connection with others
- Help them find meaning and reasons to live
- Treat any depression or other psychiatric or health problems
While the stigma of mental health issues may still hang over people’s heads, the fact is it is still a very important piece to our overall health. Dr. Singh notes the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has resources available to help you find treatment when you need it.
Help is always there when you need it, and there is no shame in getting help.
“At Banner, we have behavioral health resources at several primary care sites,” Dr. Singh said. “We also have several outpatient clinics and inpatient beds for help.”