Men and depression
Depression in men is on the rise, but many of those who suffer don’t ask for help. Here are some of the causes and symptoms of depression in men and what friends can do about it.
While not true for every man, research shows men find it hard to ask for help. Unlike the 40% of women with a mental health problem who’ll seek help, only 27% of affected men will look for support. The problem is, waiting so long to ask for help can mean the issue itself has become much more severe.
Terry Cornick, founder of men’s mental health advice hub Mr Perfect, was approaching breaking point when he finally sought help.
“I lived my first 30 years of life aware something was wrong,” says Terry. “When I finally saw my GP, just before my 30th birthday, he asked how long I’d felt like this and I said, ‘For as long as I can remember.’ My GP referred me to a specialist and within six months there was significant progress.”
Here’s how depression affects men and their ability to seek help.
Why is depression different for men and women?
For the most part, the reason why depression in men is less recognised than in women can be attributed to the stigma around men and depression.
According to men’s support service MensLine, there are several myths about ‘manhood’ that lead to men masking their symptoms of depression, including:
- depression is a sign of personal weakness
- ‘real men’ are in control of their emotions and don’t let things get to them
- feeling sad or down is not manly
- anyone with enough willpower should be able to ‘snap out of it’
- men should not ask for help; they should be able to cope on their own.
What causes depression in men?
Factors in the onset of male depression are wide-ranging – anything from a genetic susceptibility, to stressful life events, medical conditions or substance abuse.
Depression can affect men of all ages – from teenagers dealing with social and school pressures; to adults struggling with family, financial or workplace stress; and also ‘late-life depression’ diagnosed in men over 60.
Changes in relationships or the birth of a baby can also contribute, with new fathers at risk of postnatal depression, as well as mothers.
How to spot the symptoms of depression in men
While it’s normal to feel a little down sometimes, according to psychologist Dean Janover from Prahran Psychology Clinic, if those periods of feeling low start to happen more often and stick around for longer, it could be a more significant problem.
According to experts, including Beyond Blue and the Australian Department of Health, if you feel any, or a combination of, the following symptoms for longer than two weeks at a time, you could be experiencing depression:
- Feeling sad, moody, angry or even hopeless.
- Lethargy and lacking motivation.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
- Losing interest in your regular activities, sport or hobbies.
- Negative thinking patterns and being overly critical of yourself.
- Increased dependence on alcohol.
- Unable to sleep or concentrate.
- Lack of libido.
- Loss of appetite.
Helping friends cope with depression
Reducing the stigma around mental health can help to address depression in men. Dean says part of this is regularly and genuinely asking our friends how they are.
“Whether it’s in the workplace or football club, it needs to be normal for people to check on each other,” he says. “A real conversation wanting to know how each other is really going.”
Given men are less likely to ask for help, it’s important for friends to reach out if they think something’s amiss.
“Men need to know they aren’t alone – that we all at some stage go through some tough stuff,” says Justin Geange, who had been struggling with feelings of depression for some time before he finally reached breaking point.
“My 40s saw the wheels fall off completely,” says Justin. “I slipped into a deep depression and finally a complete breakdown in 2013.”
Justin found it difficult to talk to friends and family, which left him feeling alone and isolated. “But it was my mate constantly asking me how I was going that made me cave in and seek help.
“Having a yarn with someone who cares or even someone who may have walked that same path can make all the difference.”
MensLine suggests that reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean having a deep and meaningful conversation straight away, but to simply catch up and see how they’re going – especially if you know they’ve been struggling or haven’t heard from them in a while.
How to ask for help and support
And for those struggling, it’s possible to find help confidentially too. Dean advises that it’s important to tap into what’s most comfortable for you – and this could start with seeking information anonymously online – before seeing a doctor.
“It’s about acknowledging that there are feelings of anxiety and apprehension before taking the step to speak with a professional,” he says. “You can only deal with the problem once you focus on it.”
The best way to start treatment for depression is to talk to a health professional. A doctor can set you on the path towards recovery and talk to you about seeing specialists, taking medication or making lifestyle changes.
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First published in Health Agenda magazine
Updated May 2021
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