Understanding the Signs of Depression in Men

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Depression is a mental illness that affects a person’s mood and how they feel, think, and go about daily activities.

Both men and women experience depression, but the symptoms may differ, as well as recognition and the desire to seek help. However, it is important to ask for help if there is a concern for depression, as it is a serious condition.

Read more in this article about depression in men, including symptoms, triggers, and coping.

Pensive man sitting on the floor looking out of the window

Oliver Rossi / Getty Images

Differences in Male Depression

Many studies have been done on the differences in depression symptoms and diagnosis in men and women. However, there is currently no single agreed-upon hypothesis to explain these differences. 

Different ideas have been put forth, including ones saying male and female depression are separate syndromes, as well as men just experiencing different symptoms of the same disease.

Stigmas About Mental Health

Research has shown that, generally, women receive a diagnosis of depression twice as often as men. Studies have been performed to look for reasons why this occurs.

There has been discussion and research about men having different depressive symptoms. One possible reason for this is because “traditional” symptoms of depression like crying or feeling sad may be viewed as not masculine by society.

Some studies have suggested men may experience more “externalizing symptoms” like irritability, bouts of anger, substance use, self-destructive behavior, or increasing their work. These ideas stem from the thought that men may struggle going against the traditional gender norms, and present their depression differently.

Depression in Men vs. Women

Studies have shown a consistent prevalence of depression in women vs. men being 2:1, but it is unclear if this is due to differences in how men and women present and cope with depression.

Symptoms of Depression in Men

Every person experiencing depression has different symptoms. There are common ones that many people experience and less common ones that someone may not have. It also depends on the individual man how many symptoms they have and how severe they are.

Physical

Many men may see their doctor or healthcare provider for physical symptoms that are actually due to mental health issues. Some physical symptoms men may experience include:

  • Racing heart 
  • Tightening chest 
  • Headaches
  • Other physical aches or pains
  • Digestive issues 
  • Problems with sexual performance or desire 
  • Feeling tired, being unable to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Increase or loss of appetite

Emotional

Emotional and behavioral symptoms are part of depression as well, and they will differ from person to person. Some studies have shown significantly higher numbers of men with depression experiencing more irritability, anger, and decreased impulse control.

Common depression symptoms in men may include:

  • Irritability 
  • Anger or aggression
  • Feeling anxious, tense, or restless 
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Sadness, hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or with memory 
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Being unable to meet responsibilities of work, family, and other activities
  • Doing high-risk activities, such as drinking heavily or engaging in unprotected sex
  • Using alcohol or drugs 
  • Withdrawing and isolating from friends and family

Suicide Helpline

Men are at a greater risk of dying by suicide. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Male Depression Triggers

Everybody is different, and everybody who experiences depression has different triggers. Research currently shows that it is most likely caused by numerous risk factors, including genetics, environmental stressors, and illness.

Postpartum

Postpartum depression, which is often described as a major depressive episode that happens soon after the birth of a child, occurs in about 8% to 10% of fathers. It generally develops within three to six months of the child’s birth, but sometimes builds over a year.

Risk factors for developing postpartum depression in men include prior history of depression, poverty, maternal depression, marital issues, and unintended pregnancy. It could also be related to sleep deprivation and circadian rhythm disruption, which have been seen as triggers in women.

Financial

Financial stressors can be sudden or ongoing, and as a result, they can contribute to or exacerbate depression. Economic conditions have been associated with mental illness, with recessions increasing the risk of depression due to unemployment, job stress, staff reductions, decreased wages, and a decrease in the availability of mental health services.

A recent study cited that populations within the United States who have lower assets have a greater burden of mental illness during the COVID-10 pandemic.

Medical Reasons

Depression can not only be triggered by illness, but it can also make conditions worse. Examples of conditions that may co-occur with depression include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, low testosterone, and Parkinson’s disease.

Depression and Chronic Illness

Depression is common in people living with chronic illnesses, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Strokes

Aging

Depression is not a normal part of aging, but it does often affect older adults. However, it is often not recognized or treated in this population. This can lead to a decline in health and poor functioning.

Older adults with depression may need more assistance with self-care and day-to-day activities, and have a harder time recovering from physical illnesses.

In severe cases of depression, memory and thinking can be affected, causing an illness called pseudodementia.

Ways Men Can Cope

Many times, friends or family members may notice that someone is exhibiting signs of depression before the individual notices themselves.

It is important for loved ones to support that individual through the evaluation and diagnosis process. Collaborative care from healthcare providers, combined with social support, can help men cope when experiencing depression.

Ways to Help Your Depression

Men can take many steps on their own that may help their mood and depression, including:

  • Seeing and interacting with trusted people
  • Exercising or just increasing the level of physical activity
  • Breaking down tasks into smaller pieces that are more manageable
  • Waiting until depression improves to make big decisions
  • Maintaining a routine, like eating and sleeping at predictable times 
  • Avoiding substances, like alcohol and drugs

Non-Medication

Treatment for depression typically involves psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Therapy can help teach new ways of thinking, behaving, and interacting, as well as provide coping strategies and change habits that may have worsened mood.

Certain therapy methods are proven to help depression, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and problem-solving therapy. Therapy is often tried first or in conjunction with medication, and it is all dependent on the individual.

Medication

Medications used to treat depression are called antidepressants. Generally, symptoms related to sleep, appetite, and concentration get better before someone’s mood.

However, antidepressants can take up to several weeks to become effective. It is important to stay on the medicine for this long before making any decisions.

If you are feeling better or not noticing any improvement, consult a healthcare provider prior to stopping the medicine.

Medications for Depression

Several types of medication are used to treat depression in both men and women. These include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Side effects can happen with any medication, and ones that occur with antidepressants include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and gastrointestinal upset 
  • Sleep difficulty 
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of libido or sexual problems

Many of the side effects go away with time, but if there are any concerns, speak with the doctor or healthcare provider. They will be able to help make the best plan moving forward.

For sexual side effects, which are particularly associated with SSRIs, your provider may prescribe an alternative antidepressant or lower the dosage.

Talking to Your Doctor

It can be hard to start a conversation about mental health with your doctor or healthcare provider. If you are unsure where to start, mention any concerns to your primary care provider.

Other tips for speaking with a healthcare provider about mental health include:

  • Prepare before the visit, listing any medications you take, questions you have, and family history.
  • Consider bringing a friend or relative for support.
  • Be honest about any symptoms you have been having.
  • Ask questions.

A Word From Verywell

Depression can happen to anybody. While men may show different symptoms, you can still experience depression, which is a serious condition that can negatively impact your life.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms that seem like depression or have concerns, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider or mental health professional.

Asking for help can be difficult, but it will be the best step to move forward in getting better.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is depression in men underdiagnosed?

    Research has shown that men sometimes present with different symptoms of depression, like irritability, anger, and decreased impulse control, rather than what may be considered “traditional” symptoms. While there has been consistent data that women are diagnosed with depression more often than men, some studies have shown that it equals out when taking into account other non-traditional symptoms.

  • What helps men get through bouts of depression?

    Coping can come in the form of both personal and lifestyle changes, as well as both non-medication and medication treatments. Social support from loved ones is also important in both seeking help and getting better.

  • Does depression in men cause specific symptoms?

    While depression in males does not cause specific symptoms itself, there may be higher numbers of men experiencing alternative symptoms, like irritability, anger, and decreased impulse control.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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