Male depression: Understanding the issues

Male depression is a serious medical condition, but many men try to ignore it or refuse treatment. Learn the signs and symptoms — and what to do.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Do you feel irritable, isolated or withdrawn? Do you find yourself working all the time? Drinking too much? These unhealthy ways of coping may be clues that you have male depression.

Depression can affect men and women differently. When depression occurs in men, it may be hidden by unhealthy coping behavior. For several reasons, male depression often is not diagnosed or treated and can lead to serious and sometimes tragic results. But when treated, male depression usually gets better.

Male depression symptoms

Depression symptoms can differ in men and women. Men tend to use different coping skills — healthy and unhealthy — than women. It isn't clear why depression affects men and women differently. But these differences could be due to brain chemistry, hormones and life experiences. These differences also could stem from the traditional male role, which discourages the expression of emotions and encourages the pursuit of success, power and competition.

Like women with depression, men with depression may:

  • Feel sad, hopeless or empty.
  • Feel very tired.
  • Have a hard time sleeping or sleep too much.
  • Not get pleasure from activities usually enjoyed.

Other behaviors in men that could be symptoms of depression include:

  • Problems getting along with others, including your spouse or partner and other family members.
  • Escapist behavior, such as spending a lot of time at work or on sports.
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems and pain.
  • Problems with alcohol or drug use.
  • Controlling, violent or abusive behavior.
  • Irritability or anger that gets out of control.
  • Risky behavior, such as reckless driving.

These behaviors could be signs of, or might overlap with, other mental health issues. Or they may be related to medical conditions. In either case, professional help is needed to find out the reason for your symptoms and get proper treatment.

Male depression often is not diagnosed

Men with depression often aren't diagnosed for several reasons, including:

  • Not recognizing depression. You may think that feeling sad or emotional is always the main symptom of depression. But for many men, that isn't the main symptom. For example, headaches, digestive problems, tiredness, irritability or long-term pain sometimes can be symptoms of depression. So can feeling isolated and seeking distraction so that you don't have to deal with feelings or relationships.
  • Downplaying symptoms. You may not know how much your symptoms affect you. Or you may not want to admit to yourself or anyone else that you're depressed. But ignoring, covering up or using unhealthy behaviors to hide depression will only make the negative emotions worse.
  • Not wanting to talk about depression symptoms. You may not be open to talking about your feelings with family, friends or a healthcare professional. Like many men, you may have learned to focus on self-control. You may think it isn't manly to express feelings and emotions related to depression, and you may try to cover them up.
  • Not wanting to get mental health treatment. Even if you think you have depression, you may not want to be diagnosed or treated. You may not want to get help because you're worried that the stigma of depression could harm your career or cause family and friends to lose respect for you.

Male depression and suicide

Although women attempt suicide more often than men do, men are more likely to complete suicide. That's because men:

  • Use methods that are more likely to cause death, such as guns.
  • May act more suddenly in the moment on thoughts about suicide.
  • Show fewer warning signs, such as talking about suicide.
  • Are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope, which increases the risk of suicide.

If you have thoughts about suicide

If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, contact a suicide hotline.

  • In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.
  • U.S. veterans or service members who are in crisis can call 988 and then press "1" for the Veterans Crisis Line. Or text 838255. Or chat online.
  • The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).

If you have access to guns, unload them and lock them in a safe place. You also could put trigger locks on your guns.

If you're having thoughts of suicide, but you aren't thinking of hurting yourself right away, seek help:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one, even though it may be hard to talk about your feelings.
  • Talk to a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
  • Think about joining a men's health group that deals with depression.
  • Call a suicide crisis center hotline.
  • Make an appointment with your healthcare professional or a mental health professional.

Get help when you need it

Asking for help can be hard for men. But without treatment, depression isn't likely to go away, and it may get worse. Untreated depression can make you and the people close to you miserable. It can cause problems in every part of your life. It can affect your health, career, how well you get along with others and personal safety.

Depression, even if it's severe, usually gets better with medicines or counseling. This includes talk therapy, also called psychotherapy. Sometimes both medicines and counseling are used. If you or someone close to you thinks you may be depressed, talk to your healthcare professional or a mental health professional. It's a sign of strength to ask for advice or seek help when you need it.

Male depression and coping skills

Treatment with a mental health professional can help you learn to:

  • Note your emotions and coping strategies to see how you can make them better.
  • Learn ways to manage stress, such as meditation and mindfulness, and develop problem-solving skills.
  • Learn to adjust your thinking and try new approaches to situations.
  • Decide what is important in your life and move toward those values.
  • Set realistic goals and put tasks in order of importance.
  • Seek out emotional support from a partner, family or friends. Learn how to make social connections so that you can take part in social activities.
  • Wait until you get better before you make important decisions, such as changing jobs.
  • Take part in activities you usually enjoy, such as ballgames, fishing or a hobby.
  • Try to stay on a regular schedule and make healthy lifestyle choices. This includes healthy eating, regular physical activity, and not using alcohol and other substances, for better mental health.

Many effective treatments are available for depression. Don't try to deal with male depression on your own. The results could be harmful or tragic.

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Feb. 13, 2024 See more In-depth

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