Depression is a very common, debilitating illness that disrupts relationships and daily lives and affects nearly 10 percent of the population. Yet it is also often a hidden illness, particularly among men, who are less likely than women are to seek professional help for the condition.
Only 10 percent of people suffering from depression receive clinical attention. Yet, of those people who do seek help, 80 to 90 percent get relief from their symptoms. Most men seek help only when pressured to do so by significant people in their life. Thus, encouragement and support from concerned family members and friends can make a great difference in ensuring that men get treatment.
Symptoms of male depression are different than the classic symptoms usually thought of as signaling depression. Perhaps for this reason, doctors are less likely to suspect depression in men. Men tend to minimize or deny they have problems because they have been socialized to think they are supposed to “be strong.” Not wanting to “give in” to depressive types of feelings, men often mask depression by taking the attitude that “I can lick this!”
Men are more prone to act out their inner turmoil while women are more likely to turn their feelings inward. Men also unknowingly self-medicate by turning to excessively long work hours (a socially accepted habit), cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, sports, gambling, pornography or extra-marital sex.
Unlike depressed women, depressed men don’t tend to exhibit feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Rather, they often manifest depression in the form of irritability, discouragement, explosive outbursts, physical violence, suicide and homicide. Clearly, male depression is a disease with potentially devastating consequences.
In fact, suicide is four times more prevalent in men than in women, although more women attempt suicide. The rate of men’s suicide rises notably after age 70, reaching a peak after age 85. Depression can also affect men’s physical health differently than women’s. Although depression is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease in both men and women, only men suffer a high death rate from this condition.
Depression is treatable. It has a physical component: the illness causes – or is caused by – a deficiency of serotonin, a chemical in the brain. Understanding that depression is a physiological condition can remove some of the stigma and self-blame that many people attach to this disorder, which is often viewed as purely psychological.
A depressive disorder affects your body, mood and thoughts. It affects how well you eat and sleep, how you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. Depression can impair your concentration and interfere with your enjoyment of once pleasurable activities. It is not just a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed away. And without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years.
It is extremely important to seek the help of a mental health professional if depression is suspected. A psychotherapist can assess for depression and develop a treatment plan that may involve psychotherapy and medication. In addition, depressed men (as well as women) may find help through exercise, improved diet, spiritual focus, and the development of social supports and self-acceptance.
A number of excellent antidepressant medications are now available. It is important to have your medication monitored carefully by a psychiatrist, since no one medication is perfect and the correct dosage must be carefully determined: it is not the same for everyone.
Depression is a treatable illness. If you feel that you or someone you care about may be depressed, it is very important to seek help. It may even save your own or someone else’s life. If you would like to speak to a social worker about issues related to depression, call Local 802’s MAP office at (212) 397-4802 for a phone consultation or to schedule an appointment.
Material for this article came from the following sources:
- “Depression and Suicide FAQ” and “What is Major Cause of Suicide? Undiagnosed Depressive Illness!” in http://depressionfaq.com/q10.html
- “Depression in Men”, “What is Depression?” and “If You Know Someone with Depression” in http://www.reocities.com/Athens/Agora/9483/braindrain
- “Depression can Differ in Men and Women” in https://nihrecord.nih.gov/newsletters/05_15_2001/story08.htm
- “Depression” in http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml.