When it comes to their health, most men think of their physical health…like enduring a prostate exam. What they don’t realize is that they are 28 times more likely to have a mental health issue like depression in any given year than prostate cancer–even though it is the most common cancer in American men.
Now being called a “silent crisis,” the number of men with a mental health issue is growing at an astonishing rate. Researchers estimate at least six million men experience depression each year in the United States. Although men experience depression at half the rate of women, men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women. Currently, suicide is the seventh leading category for cause of death among men according to Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics.
Why Aren’t Men Getting Diagnosed and Treated for Depression?
Mental health issues like depression are seen as “sleeper” issues because they are often not accurately diagnosed and treated within the male population. Factors contributing to this include men’s lack of willingness to seek medical attention and their focus on physical symptoms rather than how they are feeling emotionally.
Not Seeking Treatment for Mental Health Issues.
According to the CDC, 26% of men have not had an appointment with a health care provider of any kind during the last twelve months. The Men’s Health Network attributes this to the fact many men are raised from an early age to believe strong men don’t cry, don’t complain and aren’t ill. Men are taught these things all represent weaknesses and “real men” are always strong.
Being enculturated to believe expressing emotions is unmanly causes many men to see depression as a sign of weakness. They believe they need to be in control of their emotions and often feel they are failing as a man if they are experiencing depression and can’t overcome it without reaching out for assistance. Thus, when men do go to the doctor, they also tend to minimize or deny symptoms and problems they are having.
Focus on Physical Symptoms.
Depression may also be overlooked and undiagnosed within men because they usually do not talk about their feelings with their physician–especially if the physician is female. Instead, they talk about the physical symptoms that often accompany depression including fatigue, pain, or difficulty concentrating. Physicians frequently attempt to treat these symptoms without realizing the deeper issue needing to be addressed.
Most Common Symptoms of Depression in Men
Men tend to experience depression differently than women. Men often become irritable and/or aggressive, drink more than usual and throw themselves into their work to make their feelings go away or to hide their feelings from those close to them. Three of the most common symptoms of depression in men include:
backaches, headaches or sleep problems unresponsive to normal treatments
irritability, loss of sense-of-humor, road rage, short temper or aggression. This can also lead to abusive or controlling behavior
engaging in risky activities such as driving too fast, having unprotected sex, abusing drugs or gambling.
Focus on Men’s Mental Health This Week
It is important to let men know they don’t need to tough out depression by themselves.
There is help! What works for one person may not work for another, and no one treatment is appropriate in all cases, but the best approaches include:
Finding someone to talk with about how you are feeling is essential. Having a strong support network helps “inoculate” individuals against depression and also speeds recovery from depression. Isolation makes depression worse so don’t hesitate to reach out and be honest about what is happening.
Eating healthy, engaging in at least thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise daily, lowering the number of stressors in your life, learning to utilize stress management techniques, and learning to challenge negative thinking patterns all help to alleviate depression.
Learning how to identify, label, and express emotions in healthy ways is an essential part of becoming and remaining healthy.
Medication and counseling have been shown to be effective in treating depression over 75% of the time. Reaching out for professional assistance is not a sign of weakness but rather a wise way of caring for yourself and learning tools to recover from depression and prevent it from returning.
If you or someone you love is struggling with the symptoms described above, please reach out for help. While the cause of depression is often not immediately clear, what is clear is that you are not alone and should never feel ashamed. Depression is common and most often is entirely treatable. Take time during Men’s Health Week to reach out and begin getting help!
Men & Depression Resources
Real Men. Real Depression. National Institute for Mental Health shares personal stories about depression from real men.
Mantherapy.org. Western Colorado Suicide Prevention Foundation’s educational site takes on a tough topic with some tongue-and-cheek humor that “real” men under 55 may appreciate.
Helpguide.org. How to talk to and offer support to a man with depression.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. How to talk to someone about suicide.
Jean Holthaus, LMSW, LISW has been providing outpatient therapy services since 1995 when she earned her Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Iowa. She has worked for Pine Rest since 1997. She currently serves as manager of the Telehealth Clinic and the Hastings Clinic and is also a Pine Rest Outpatient Regional Director.