Why DO men do depression differently? Traditional male roles are less traditional than ever before, yet males still tend to exude values of self-reliance, willpower, control and stoicism. All are of little use or consolation when it comes to overcoming depression. After all, we can’t recover from clinical depression by isolating ourselves, denying our feelings, gritting our teeth and powering on through. In fact, this traditional male ethos is literally killing some of us.
While men fall on a continuum in terms of machismo, masculinity, and androgyny, for the purpose of this article, all following references to men with depression is intended to refer to those who embrace a more traditional male role – whether they’re aware of this or not.
Depression is a leading contributor to mortality through heart disease and stress-related medical conditions, suicide, addiction, and violence. It contributes to marital and family problems as well as lower subjective quality of life. Depression affects how we think, feel, and function.
Men have long “done” depression differently. They are more likely to have their depression overlooked and misunderstood. They suffer silently, angrily, or dangerously. Some refer to this as “stealth depression”. Therefore, men often enter therapy after things have begun to go off the rails: i.e. following disciplinary action at work, legal problems, or insistence or ultimatum from a family member.
Ways men experience depression differently than women
More likely to die by suicide
Despite being less likely than women to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide. This is due in part to postponement of seeking help, misinterpreted symptoms and behaviors. A tendency for firearm use is also a contributing factor.
More physical or stress symptoms
Men are more likely to experience symptoms such as aches and pains, fatigue and low libido. The generic complaint of “stress” could lead them to become less active and miss work and family activities. This is why it’s so important to dig deeper to identify a more accurate feeling word when someone cites struggling with “stress”.
Men are more likely to sink into the recliner or the rigors of their job and become lost there for extended periods of time. This could look like dropping out of life or becoming a workaholic.
Angry, irritable and aggressive
Men are more likely to become irritable and angry, maybe even aggressive in the face of this invisible force they often have very little insight into. This might mean picking fights with their spouse, experiencing problems with the law or performance problems at work.
Men are more likely to become reckless in how they conduct themselves, including driving too fast, road rage incidents, mismanagement of money, taking unnecessary risks, and infidelity.
Turning to addictive behaviors
Men are more likely to attempt to treat their depression with alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography.
Fortunately, we can all do our part to reinforce the notion that men don’t have to meet some arbitrary, outdated mode of being that contributes to their demise through depression.
We can do this without threatening societal traditions. This is simply about how we reinforce the way men see themselves from a health perspective.
Examples of such initiatives include:
- The public health billboard that reminds us of how many thousands of men die in our community from refusal to seek medical and mental health treatment.
- The Man Therapy website uses masculine tropes and humor to normalize mental health care as the right option. The aptly named spokesman, Rich Mahogany, espouses the benefits of “therapy from the creators of pork chops and fighter jets”.
Men and the people who live with them, love them, work with them, manage them, and worship with them need to be vigilant for the signs of possible depression indicated above. Do not be afraid to start and continue a conversation if you’re concerned about someone close.
Psychotherapy is just one form of treatment. But it can honor the vulnerability and courage it takes for a man to seek help. Men often experience tremendous relief and empowerment when they realize how good it feels to unburden themselves in session. They actually wish they had done it years ago. For the first time in their lives, they finally realize that they are not weak, defective or broken.
Gordon Greer, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC, is a licensed social worker at the Pine Rest Forest Hills Clinic and a certified alcohol and drug counselor. He has extensive experience working with teens, adults and families in outpatient mental health and inpatient psychiatric settings.