Do you know a man who seems depressed? What are his symptoms? Does he talk to you about it?
Men and depression simply don’t mix in a male-dominated world that is characterized by unrealistic displays of strength, power, and social prowess. For men, depression is simply a “female” thing that is often tied to estrogen and all the other female specific hormones and emotions.
The reality is that men also suffer from depression although their symptoms may be a tad different. It is important that we understand how to identify the symptoms of male depression. Many people are familiar with what depression may look like in humans in general, but often become confused when depression symptoms are expressed in males as anger, rage, resentment, hostility, physical aggression, abusive behaviors, alcohol addiction, unexplained irritability, hopelessness, low self-esteem, poor sleep patterns, and feelings of confused identity.
This article will discuss seven possible signs of male depression and what to do to help a depressed man cope.
As a female therapist, it can be very difficult for me to work with adolescent boys who are irritable, defensive, and struggling with depression. It is not one of the easiest jobs. Why? Because males tend to have so many layers to their thought patterns and personality that helping them increase awareness of what is happening to them is like trying to help a 2 year old understand that temper tantrums are immature. Men have so many social expectations to overcome and so many personal goals to achieve. Focusing on depression is not something they want to make time for. That’s why it is important (as a therapist, a wife, sister, cousin, mother, etc.) that we understand how to help them.
Because mood disorders among adolescents is my area of expertise, I have decided to put together a listing of behaviors that I have noticed as barriers to identifying and treating male depression:
- Trying too hard to convince others he’s okay: Men are well known for “putting on faces” to cover what they really feel. Why? Because society has communicated to them that any expression of an emotion could result in social backlash. It’s a sad reality that a man will suffer in silence to avoid social ostracism for reaching out for help.
- What you can do: If you know a man who may be struggling with depression but refuses to reach out for help, you can offer to talk to him about how his is feeling, attend a therapy session with him, or provide an interesting book, article, or website on the topic. Be careful with how you bring up the topic as some men will likely become defensive and offended. Make it known that you care and want to make sure he is okay.
- Appearing overly happy or joyous: Trying to project a happy or overly-joyous facade is not specific to men alone as many women do this as well. But guys have a reputation for laughing with their buddies and being sarcastic about their feelings or the feelings of others. It is almost as if sarcasm or laughter about topics such as depression is a macho thing to do.
- What you can do: Avoid laughing or smiling at sarcastic comments that seem insensitive to others’ feelings or depressed mood. You want to debunk any myths the male may have and highlight the importance of being sensitive to someone who may be depressed. Most men need to know that depression is not a laughing matter.
- Drinking more and/or self-medicating with over-the-counter meds, prescriptions, or recreational drugs: Most men like beer. Again, it is a cultural and “macho” thing to grab a beer with the guys and “hang out.” But is the male truly “hanging out with the guys to drink a beer or two” or is he self-medicating? It will be your job to determine and explore what it could be if you have suspicions. Because men like beer, especially men from certain cultures, it can be difficult to pinpoint the act of self-medicating.
- What you can do: Try to monitor his drinking if you can without him knowing. Does he drink on the weekend? Does he drink every weekend? Is he drinking every other night after work? Is he defensive when you comment on his drinking style? If so, you may be on to something that requires further attention. Depression often sneaks up on men who internalize their feelings which can lead to a greater need for alcohol or other addictive behaviors to help them cope.
- Being more irritable, angry, hostile, or resentful without an obvious trigger: Men can be tricky when it comes to mood regulation. Some are born irritable, while others are always pleasant. It can be difficult to determine if depression is at the core of an irritable guy. One way of determining if depression is at the core of irritable mood(s) is to observe his behavior in other settings, around other people, and during certain times of the day. Men who are depressed will often be irritable no matter what, and may or may not have moments of joy. Irritability may include becoming easily angered over things that should never make him angry.
- What you can do: Talk to him about his irritability in a way that makes him feel you care and are just checking in with him. You can hint around if this approach works. Or you can approach the topic authentically and honestly. Either way, you want to communicate that you have noticed a “change” in behavior and are wondering why.
- Using fatalistic or pessimistic language: Many people, including myself, have used fatalistic language at some point. Life isn’t always wonderful and it certainly isn’t always predictable. Because of this, it is only normal to feel hopeless and maybe even defeated and express our emotions using “fatalistic” language. But if the man engages in using fatalistic or pessimistic language that is uncharacteristic, this may be a hint or clue that depression and hopelessness are present. A man can intentionally use such language in hopes of getting someone’s attention or unintentionally use the language because that is truly how he feels.
- What you can do: If pessimism or negativity is not a typical behavior or mind-set for the guy, you may want to broach the topic at a time when he seems receptive. You can start out by asking simple questions without sounding accusatory, such as “why so much negativity lately?” “what’s going on?” Or you can also broach the topic by first declaring your own struggle(s) such as, “I totally get your perspective as I too struggle with staying positive, but I’m not used to you being this way.”
- Seeming disinterested in things once enjoyed: Men are interesting when it comes to feelings of hopelessness, lack of motivation, or anhedonia. Some of the males in my own life, while feeling hopeless or depressed, would cover their emotions by saying things such as, “I’m fine,” “I’m just chilling,” or “I’m happy although I may not be showing it right now.” There is almost this sense of personal urgency for them to cover emotions and distract attention away from their depressed mood. If the man is trying to convince others that he is the same person he has always been, something is not okay.
- What you can do: You can certainly lead by example. You can plan activities or try to engage the fellow in activities that are generally fun. You can lead by example by letting yourself go and allowing yourself to experience some joy. You certainly don’t want to seem overbearing, overly excited, or become annoying. But you do want to make it “safe” for him to engage and attempt to be happy, even if it’s just briefly.
- Seeking constant excitement: Some men, when depressed, will seek thrills and look for things to excite them in some way. Sex, food, speeding, cheating, drinking, using drugs, or gambling are a few examples of activities that men seeking a “rush” or thrill will engage in. The purpose of this is to decrease feelings of depression and increase the “feel good hormones” (i.e., adrenaline). Sadly, some men will engage in self-injurious behaviors such as excessive tattooing, cutting, or burning themselves.
- What you can do: If a man is engaging in self-injurious behaviors or unsafe behaviors just for excitement, it is time to have a serious discussion. Depression can be treated, and most men learn to cope with symptoms. You certainly do not want to put pressure on him to seek help, but you do want him to understand that unsafe behavior will lead to further trouble down the road.
Are there other symptoms of male depression that stick out to you? Have you experienced male depression or observed it in your own life? Feel free to post your comments below.
Looking forward to your comments, questions, and/or experiences.
As always, I wish you well
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. (2016). Men and Depression. Retrieved online 3/22/2016 from, http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_brochures_men_depression.