Recognizing and treating depression in men
We all feel sad at times, but major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, is a serious mood disorder.
Depression affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, and causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Depression can lead to emotional and physical problems, and a decreased ability to function at work and at home.
In 2020, 8.4% or 21 million adults in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode. The prevalence was higher in women (10.5%) compared to men (6.2%). The number of men affected may be underestimated since men are typically less likely to seek help for depression.
“A major depressive episode is defined as a period of at least two weeks when a person experiences a depressed mood or loss of interest in daily activities, and has a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration or self-worth,” explains Dr. Robert Bauer, psychiatrist at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza. “Risk factors for depression in men can be a combination of genetics, environmental factors such as finances, work, relationships, or alcohol and substance abuse, and any medical condition such as heart disease, cancer or even a prolonged injury or surgery.”
Symptoms can be different in men and women. Women typically report feeling sad, worthless, or dealing with excessive levels of guilt or shame. Due to the social stigma about “masculine norms” associated with emotional symptoms in men, they are usually more willing to report physical symptoms including chest tightness, racing heart, headaches, erectile dysfunction, weight loss or gain, digestive problems, or pain. They may also report mental problems such as sleep disturbances or problems with concentration and memory.
At home, men may also show excessive anger, irritability, self-destructive behaviors such as gambling, substance abuse or overworking. These symptoms can mask depression, making it harder to detect or treat.
Often men do not admit there is a problem and do not seek out help. If left untreated, personal, family, and financial problems can arise, with suicide four times more likely in men than women. Chef Anthony Bourdain and comedian Robin Williams are both victims of suicide from major depressive disorder in recent years.
“For men, family members are often the ones who first recognize their loved one is depressed, and encourage them to get help,” explains Dr. Bauer. And while often men are resistant to seeing a provider for a mental health problem, framing therapy as a meeting instead of a session and setting goals and strategies, rather than treatment, can help change the stigma of counseling that some men may have. “The good news,” Dr. Bauer encourages, “is major depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders and up to 80-90% respond well to treatment over time.” With medication and counseling-developed strategies such as coping skills, self-care, and finding relational support, men can get help and return to living a full life.
If you suffer from depression or a mood disorder, reach out for help. Contact your provider and let them know your concerns. If you don’t have a provider, consider becoming a patient at HopeHealth, where health care and counseling services are offered with an integrated care model, to treat the whole person. Find us online at hope-health.org or call 843-667-9414.