Depression is a serious medical condition and has been given increased attention and focus over the past year as the Covid-19 pandemic has taken hold. This is especially true for men who might be experiencing depression. Experts say a large percentage of men typically avoid seeking treatment for their physical or mental health. This can affect the people they love, things they enjoy and ability to carry out their responsibilities.
In this blog post, Dr Thomas Dannhauser, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Holly Private Hospital talks about the signs and symptoms of male depression — and what to do to recognise it and get help.
How do depressed men look?
Most people know the general symptoms of depression. Being unhappy for several days, poor appetite or over (comfort) eating, insomnia or lethargy and too much sleep, poor concentration and lack of enjoyment.
Depression in men can look different. They can be angry, irritable or aggressive rather than sad, making them short-tempered. They can feel empty or flat, lacking interest and have low libido, isolate themselves and avoid socialising with family and friends. Some men engage in high-risk activities or start using drugs and alcohol regularly. Thoughts of suicide and acts of self-harm or careless behaviour towards one’s health are worrying signs of more serious depression.
Why male depression often goes undiagnosed
Men can view depression as failure or weakness, feel they deserve punishment or be ashamed. This is far from the truth. Men look up to other self-made successful men, not realising that becoming successful means taking risks, and that it means failing from time to time. And by success I don’t just mean financial or occupational, it also means overcoming disability, poverty, abuse, bad habits, and coping with aging. In other words, depression is one of the possible consequences of taking the risks required to unlock your full potential and living a long life. If a man sustains a physical injury on the way to success, then he will ask and get help.
The same should be the case for depression. The faster you get help, the quicker you can recover. I have heard many different versions of the same story of men who became depressed because they were aspirational, wanting to improve their lives, and “bit off more than they could chew”. There is no shame it. It is this drive and desire to advance that makes us human. Depression is just another injury and should be treated as such.
Male depression and suicide
Generally speaking, men try to commit suicide less than women but are more likely to die because they use more lethal methods. The risk of completed suicide is, therefore, higher in men and suicidal thoughts and feelings in men and women should be treated as very serious and they should get professional help.
When to see a doctor?
Depression is considered to serious and requiring medical attention when (1) it affects a man’s functioning, (2) there is no obvious reason for becoming depressed because this can indicate a serious underlying physical health problem.
Let’s look at a few examples of depression affecting functioning. If a man is frightening or driving his loved ones away because he has become irritable or aggressive, or losing romantic interest in his partner, then his ability to function in relationships is affected. If his lack of interest, concentration or lethargy affects his ability to work or perform at his usual ability, then his occupational functioning is affected. And struggling to look after his health, self-care and appearance, including overeating or not eating, not seeking or following medical advice, are signs of self-neglect. Suicidal thoughts, self-harm or careless behaviour are worrying signs of more serious depression that requires medical attention.
Coping skills? Treatments available?
It’s good to have someone to talk to regularly about your problems, who you trust and who will advise you to seek help if required. People who have 6-8 close friends are more resilient and happy. They must know or get to know you and see you often enough that they will be able to see when you are depressed, and to support you if required (in person rather than online). There are several different established treatments for depression as well as a few useful new ones which mean that most men should be able to make a complete recovery. Ask your doctor about this.
What to do if you have suicidal thoughts
Make an urgent appointment with your general practitioner when you start having them. If they develop suddenly or are very strong then call 999 so you can get urgent help.
How to talk to a friend who’s having problems?
Most people feel a lot better once they have had the opportunity to tell someone about their problems. Let them talk, try not to interrupt or judge, offer your support, advise them to get help if you feel out of your depth or they have any of the more worrying symptoms mentioned earlier. Offer to accompany them to an appointment. If you read only one book to learn how your mind works and how to better control it, then read The Chimp Paradox by British Psychiatrist Prof. Steven Peters, and to learn a method to shape your life to make you happier and more resilient, The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller.