Depression is one of the most common mental health problems around the world. Globally, there are around 280 million people who suffer from the condition, and at its worst, depression in men or women can lead to suicide.
According to the Office for National Statistics, around three quarters of registered suicide deaths in England and Wales (in 2019) were among men. The male suicide rate is also at the highest its been since 2000. This is particularly alarming, as men are less likely than women to get help for depression.
The disorder can manifest in men in a multitude of ways, and sometimes without the traditional signs of depression most of us are aware of.
What is depression?
Depression is a serious mood disorder that affects both men and women across all age groups. It leads to a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness and loss of interest in activities you’d normally enjoy.
There are many symptoms – both emotional and physical. To get a diagnosis of clinical depression, these symptoms of depression need to be present for at least two weeks.
Depression in men
While the common perception is that women suffer more from depression, and statistics reflect that, men are less likely to speak out and seek help. This means that lots of cases of male depression are going undiagnosed.
‘Sometimes, men would rather not talk about their feelings and instead may turn to other, potentially destructive ways of coping,’ says Lina Anderhell, registered Livi psychologist. ‘Their reluctance can be down to not wanting to show themselves as vulnerable.’
Male depression may appear differently
Another reason that men don’t often ask for help, says Anderhell, is that they ‘might not recognise themselves in the symptoms that are described.’ For example, the traditional signs of depression like a low or depressed mood, change in sleep patterns and losing pleasure in things they enjoy, may not be the first thing depressed men notice about their experience.
Men may still feel sad and lose interest in activities they used to enjoy but they may also show other signs not necessarily associated with depression.
Here are some of the signs of depression in men to look for.
- Loss of interest in work, social life or hobbies
- Indecisiveness or inability to concentrate
- Aggressive behaviour
- Withdrawing and isolation
- Drink and drugs
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sleep problems
- Changes in appetite and eating
- Weight changes
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Loss of libido
- Loss of energy
- Digestive problems
What causes mood swings in men?
There are several common causes of depression and mood swings in men, and these can lead to depression in women too.
Age, financial circumstances, lifestyle, illness, family history and even genetics have been shown to affect the likelihood of depression in men. There may be a trigger or series of stressful events which can lead to someone becoming depressed.
In men, dealing with any kind of loss is a possible cause to trigger depression. This could include a relationship breakdown, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job.
How to help a partner with depression
It can be difficult to know how to broach the subject of depression in relationships with sensitivity. This is particularly hard if the man you’re worried about has withdrawn and is not open about his feelings.
‘What’s important as a partner or friend, is to bring up the subject even if it feels scary,’ says Anderhell. ‘Dare to ask the question, “how are you feeling?’’
She suggests expressing what you’ve noticed about their behaviour and what’s worrying you. ‘The key thing is not to blame but to show support and ask the person if there’s anything you can do to help them,’ she says.
Be aware that the form of support they want will be very individual. ‘They might just want somebody to listen, or maybe they’d like you to go with them to see a professional,’ Anderhell says.
Self-help for depression in men
Talking about your problems to friends, family or professionals, avoiding too much alcohol and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are all beneficial for preventing male depression.
Practicing mindfulness and using mindful techniques can also regulate your mood as they allow you to step back from a problem. Similarly, exercise has been shown to help prevent depression in men, as it releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins into our body.
Low-intensity exercise can improve nerve cell connection too, and so helps reduce recurring or long-term symptoms of depression in men.
Getting depression treatment
Knowing when to see a doctor is hard, especially as men have a tendency to avoid seeking help. When dealing with depression, it’s important to seek help as quickly as possible. This can make treatment a slightly easier and shorter process.
A Livi GP can help you to better understand your problems as well as give you advice and support on how to deal with things that feel difficult.
Depression treatment can vary a lot depending on the individual. Some men benefit more from psychological support like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and talking therapies, whereas others see more improvement from antidepressants, or a combination of both.
This article has been reviewed by Livi psychologist Lina Anderhell