Everyone feels sad from time to time. It’s a natural reaction to situations that are emotionally trying or upsetting. But sadness, like all other emotions, is temporary. Even when we are sad, we are able to laugh, work, and find joy. Sadness goes away over time.
Depression, which is often thought of as the same as sadness, is a longer-term mental illness. When you’re depressed, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find joy in anything, even things that once rocked your world. Depression interferes with an individual’s ability to live life: to work, participate in social and family life, even take care of themselves. Untreated, depression has the potential to last a lifetime.
Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the United States, affecting about 16 million adults annually, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Although women more frequently seek help for, and are diagnosed with depression, the disease affects men, too. A 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found no significant difference in the rate of depression between men and women when measured on a gender-neutral depression scale. Considering that the suicide rate among American men is about four times higher than among women, it seems clear it’s time to address the issue of depression in men.
The condition may be underdiagnosed, and thus undertreated, because men’s symptoms, and willingness to address them, are different. Their symptoms may include:
• Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
• Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge”
• Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities
• Problems with sexual desire and performance
• Feeling sad, “empty,” flat, or hopeless
• Not being able to concentrate or remember details
• Feeling very tired, not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
• Overeating or not wanting to eat at all
• Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
• Physical aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
• Inability to meet the responsibilities of work, caring for family, or other important activities
• Engaging in high-risk activities
• Increase in the use of drugs and/or alcohol
• Withdrawing from family and friends or becoming isolated
Friends, families, colleagues and even physicians may fail to recognize men’s depression symptoms, attributing them to stress or even a “midlife” crisis. Men themselves are poor at recognizing their own symptoms and are less likely than women to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment.
Raised in a culture that prized the “strong, silent type,” many men suffering from depression hide their emotions. Men are “permitted” to exhibit anger, irritability or aggressiveness; take excessive risks; or consume large amounts of alcohol. But societal “permission” to cry or talk about feelings? Not so much.
Often their depression symptoms manifest physically: Trouble sleeping. Feeling exceptionally fatigued for no reason. Rapid heart rate, chest tightness, ongoing headaches, and stomach problems.
While women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely die by suicide because they use more lethal methods. And white men above the age of 85 have the highest suicide rate in the nation – four times that of any other group!
Causes and treatment
Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of risk factors including:
• Genetics – Men with a family history of depression may be more likely to develop it than those whose family members do not have the illness.
• Environmental Stress – Financial problems, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, major life changes, work problems, or any stressful situation may trigger depression in some men.
• Illness – Depression can occur with other medical conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or Parkinson’s disease. Medications taken for these illnesses may cause side effects that trigger or worsen depression. Physical changes, such as a loss of a limb, or eyesight, may also trigger depression.
Whether male or female, a person with depression can’t simply snap out of it. Treatment is necessary. But reaching men can be difficult. If a man in your life is exhibiting signs of depression, support him by helping him find a doctor or mental health professional. Encourage him to talk about his symptoms. Remember, even men who don’t recognize their symptoms as depression will sometimes agree to seek help for physical symptoms.
For more than 50 years, Bluegrass has been helping the people of central Kentucky with an integrated system of care to assure positive outcomes for individuals and families in the areas of mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. We can help you and those you love. Call our 24-hour helpline at 1-800-928-8000.