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Do you feel irritable, isolated or withdrawn?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 coping strategies may be clues that you have male depression.

Depression can affect men and women differently. When depression occurs in men, it may be masked by unhealthy coping behavior. For a number of reasons, male depression often goes undiagnosed and can have devastating consequences when it goes untreated. But male depression usually gets better with treatment.

Male depression signs and symptoms

Depression signs and symptoms can differ in men and women. Men also tend to use different coping skills — both healthy and unhealthy — than women do. It isn't clear why men and women may experience depression differently. It likely involves a number of factors, including brain chemistry, hormones and life experiences.

Like women with depression, men with depression may:

  • Feel sad, hopeless or empty
  • Feel extremely tired
  • Have difficulty sleeping or sleep too much
  • Not get pleasure from activities usually enjoyed

Other behaviors in men that could be signs of depression — but not recognized as such — include:

  • 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 inappropriate anger
  • Risky behavior, such as reckless driving

Because these behaviors could be signs of or might overlap with other mental health issues, or may be associated with medical conditions, professional help is the key to an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Male depression often goes undiagnosed

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

  • Failure to recognize depression. You may think that feeling sad or emotional is always the main symptom of depression. But for many men, that isn't the primary symptom. For example, headaches, digestive problems, tiredness, irritability or long-term pain can sometimes indicate depression. So can feeling isolated and seeking distraction to avoid dealing with feelings or relationships.
  • Downplaying signs and symptoms. You may not recognize how much your symptoms affect you, or you may not want to admit to yourself or to anyone else that you're depressed. But ignoring, suppressing or masking depression with unhealthy behavior will only worsen the negative emotions.
  • Reluctance to discuss depression symptoms. You may not be open to talking about your feelings with family or friends, let alone with a doctor or mental health professional. Like many men, you may have learned to emphasize self-control. You may think it's not manly to express feelings and emotions associated with depression, and you try to suppress them.
  • Resisting mental health treatment. Even if you suspect you have depression, you may avoid diagnosis or refuse treatment. You may avoid getting help because you're worried that the stigma of depression could damage 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 impulsively on suicidal thoughts
  • Show fewer warning signs, such as talking about suicide

If you have suicidal thoughts

If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, get help right now:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.

If you're feeling suicidal, but you aren't immediately thinking of hurting yourself, seek help:

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

Get help when you need it

Asking for help can be hard for men. But without treatment, depression is unlikely 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 aspect of your life, including your health, career, relationships and personal safety.

Depression, even if it's severe, usually improves with medications or psychological counseling (psychotherapy) or both. If you or someone close to you thinks you may be depressed, talk to your doctor 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, including psychotherapy, with a mental health professional can help you learn healthy coping skills. These may include:

  • Goals. Set realistic goals and prioritize tasks.
  • Support. Seek out emotional support from a partner or family or friends. Learn strategies for making social connections so that you can get involved in social activities.
  • Coping. Learn ways to manage stress, such as meditation and mindfulness, and develop problem-solving skills.
  • Decisions. Delay making important decisions, such as changing jobs, until your depression symptoms improve.
  • Activities. Engage in activities you typically enjoy, such as ball games, fishing or a hobby.
  • Health. Try to stick to a regular schedule and make healthy lifestyle choices, including healthy eating and regular physical activity, to help promote better mental health.

Many effective treatments are available for depression. So don't try to tough out male depression on your own — the consequences could be devastating.

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May 21, 2019 See more In-depth

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