Depression is often thought of as women’s health issue. Women are almost twice as likely as men to experience symptoms of depression, according to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
But the truth is: Depression also affects men and in large numbers — about six million American men struggle with depression. Unfortunately, they’re less likely to address their depression than women.
MEN’S DEPRESSION OFTEN GOES OVERLOOKED
Some signs of symptoms of men’s depression appear as aggression, not depression, so the true problem is often overlooked.
Women usually experience “textbook” symptoms of depression, which means they:
- Feel sad, empty, hopelessness, helplessness and/or guilt
- Have changes their appetite, causing weight fluctuations
- Sleep too little or too much; feel tired and irritable
- Lose interest in enjoyable activities and hobbies
- Have difficulty concentrating, remembering facts and/or making decisions
- Deal with headaches, digestive issues and aches/pains
Men can go undergo some of those signs and symptoms. But unlike women, many men also:
- Develop substance use issues
- Exhibit risky behavior like reckless driving and unsafe sex
- Present controlling or abusive behavior in relationships
- Act angry, violent and/or frustrated
When men do recognize they’re feeling off – they ignore it, downplay it, avoid discussing it and/or resist treatment. Sadly, 49 percent of men are more depressed than they admit, according to Mindwise. Why? Our society encourages men to suppress their feelings. And men’s depression is often triggered by financial, legal or work-related stress – issues men don’t want to discuss because it’s viewed as a disappointment or failure.
“It’s extremely important to talk about what’s troubling you,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, medical director, MDVIP. “Untreated depression can result in bigger problems.”
When depression isn’t addressed, its signs and symptoms tend to exacerbate, eventually affecting relationships and work life. Workers suffering from depression miss twice as many days on the job as workers without depression.
Depression also takes a toll on physical health. Take substance abuse for example. When men are depressed, they’re twice as likely to binge drink as women. Since alcohol is a depressant, the over consumption can cause and/or worsen depression. Substance use, along with other negative lifestyle habits associated with depression, including poor sleep habits, unhealthy nutrition choices and skipping workouts, raise the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, addictions, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The American Heart Association now considers depression a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Studies also have found depression slows recovery of a heart attack or stroke.
Probably the biggest threat linked to untreated depression is suicide. And while suicide is a risk to both genders, men die from suicide 3.8 times more often than women.
One reason for the higher suicide rates is trauma. About 60 percent of men experience trauma such as an accident, physical assault, combat or a disaster. Keep in mind, most first responders (police officers, firefighters, EMTs) and military service members are men. Many events they’re involved in handling can haunt them, manifest into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition notorious for increasing the likelihood of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide.
Men also bottle up their feelings. But the problem isn’t just they don’t share there feeling with their loved ones. Studies suggest men also are less likely than women to seek professional help for stressful events, addictions and depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
Consequently, men suppress their emotions and suffer from depression in silence from depression, jeopardizing their physical and mental health.
“I always encouraged my male patients to find someone in their life to discuss their personal feelings,” says Kaminetsky. “Of course, many men were hesitant. My next suggestion was always to open up to me – their primary care physician.”
If you’re suffering from depression, talk to your primary care physician. They’re trained to deal with depression and can help you find treatment or other care providers if necessary. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan that can address your physical and mental health.