Why don’t we hear more about depression in men? It appears to be a well-kept secret.
Yet, men get depressed for the same reasons as women, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 5 million men in the U.S. suffer from depression every year.
“There is a heredity factor that runs in some families that predisposes people to depression,” said James E. Thompson, M.D., a Carilion Clinic family medicine physician and medical director of Carilion's VTC Family Medicine Residency. “Alcohol or drug abuse can also cause or contribute to depression, and so can chronic or sudden disease like a heart attack or stroke.”
Men may have another contributing factor—a low testosterone level.
“Some men have lower levels in general,” Dr. Thompson said.
Depression causes physical and emotional changes in the body. Its symptoms (in either men or women) may include:
- Sleeping too much or little
- Lack of interest or pleasure in activities you used to like
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sexual dysfunction
“Men with depression may experience more anger and irritability than women,” said Dr. Thompson.
But they often won’t recognize or acknowledge their symptoms as readily as women. “Most of the time men will not go to see their doctor for depression,” he added.
When he does encounter a male patient who he suspects is depressed, he will ask, “What is your wife (or mother or sister) concerned about when it comes to your health?”
“Often he’ll reply, ‘She’s concerned that I’m angry all the time.’ ”
Dr. Thompson also sees increased depression in men who have retired or can’t work. “I encourage them to find something that gives them meaning in life,” he noted. “If not a job, then volunteering or contributing to society in a positive fashion.”
Depression isn’t something to dismiss as trivial. “It’s a real disease, just like high blood pressure or diabetes,” Dr. Thompson said.
Depression is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, and often doctors will recommend a better diet and exercise as a way of improving the brain’s chemistry.
Counseling and medication may also be prescribed. “Medication can help you help you think more clearly and solve problems as they come along,” said Dr. Thompson.
So if you suspect a man in your life is struggling with depression, do encourage him to be aware of his symptoms and consider seeking help. It could just save his life.
Learn more about depression in men who go through "male menopause," a period marked by a decline in the production of androgens, especially testosterone.