Depression is one of the most common mental disorders of the 21st century. Each year, hundreds of millions of men and women worldwide experience moderate or severe depressive episodes. In fact, almost every person on this planet has experienced at least one depressive episode throughout their entire life.
But while from an early age, girls are typically encouraged to talk about their feelings and share their emotional struggles, boys are often taught to keep their problems to themselves and figure out a way to overcome them. This conditioning, in addition to other societal influences and biological differences between men and women, can dramatically impact the way men, as opposed to women, experience and deal with depressive symptoms.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental condition characterized by persistent feelings of helplessness, sadness, and pessimism, coupled with a complete lack of interest in any activity. With an intensity that can sometimes reach complete apathy and lethargy, depression has a profoundly negative impact on a person’s sense of satisfaction and wellbeing.
For example, depression can reduce a person’s ability to perform well in school or at work. As a result, people with depression can fall behind on their coursework, struggle with unemployment, find themselves on the brink of divorce, and lose their sense of self-worth.
Unfortunately, men rarely seek professional help in dealing with their depression. They often resort to self-medication and substance abuse, methods which are not only ineffective but also exacerbate their sense of helplessness.
Commons Signs of Depression in Men
Given that depression is a complex social and psycho-emotional condition, sex differences are a crucial factor in diagnosing and treating depression.
Some studies indicate that while both genders share most of the symptoms (fatigue, insomnia, lack of focus, loss of interest in pleasant activities), depression in men is characterized by aggressive behavior, risk-taking, and alcohol or substance abuse.
- Weight gain
- Loss of libido
- Erectile dysfunction
- Muscle cramps
- Headaches and/or migraines
- Feelings of sadness or inner emptiness
- Feelings of helplessness
- Poor decision making
- Aggressive behaviors
- Impulsive behaviors
- Addictions and substance abuse
- Poor academic or work performance
- Inability to meet family responsibilities
- Social isolation
Sex Differences in Depression
To gain a clear image of the differences between the way men and women experience depression, we need to look beyond the common symptoms.
Like any other emotional condition, depression results from genetic, biological, personality, and environmental factors. On top of that, the way men and women experience depression can vary depending on the social and cultural norms that govern their day-to-day lives.
From a genetic perspective, current evidence highlights significant differences between the expression of genes responsible for major depressive disorder in men and women. In other words, male brains seem to “code” depression differently compared to female brains.
While the prevalence of depression is higher among women, men tend to experience more severe symptoms. As a result, men are more likely to attempt or commit suicide.
If we look at depression in women, studies indicate depressive episodes are often accompanied by anxiety and somatic symptoms. Furthermore, women are most vulnerable to depression during postpartum.
That being said, postpartum depression is a condition that men can experience as well. Although it can easily go undiagnosed due to cultural stereotypes, paternal postpartum depression can be challenging, especially for first-time dads.
While women with depression tend to blame themselves, avoid heated arguments, and use social interactions as a “band-aid” for unpleasant feelings, men will often blame others for their condition, behave aggressively, and overcompensate for their helplessness by resorting to sex, alcohol, psychoactive substances, and binge-watching.
Effective Treatments for Depression in Men
Most mental health professionals agree that the best approach to treating moderate-to-severe forms of depression is to combine medication with psychotherapeutic treatment.
Psychotherapy helps individuals gain a better understanding of their inner universe, identify valuable resources, and adopt effective strategies for building emotional resilience and wellbeing.
Whether the client is dealing with depression, anxiety, or any other mood disorder, a licensed professional will begin by assessing their condition using clinical interviews and psychological tests.
Based on a thorough assessment, counselors or therapists will devise a personalized intervention plan that spans over weekly sessions and includes various assignments or tasks that clients with depression are encouraged to complete between sessions.
Long story short, psychotherapy is a science-backed, structured, and collaborative approach that improves individuals’ self-esteem and quality of life, helping them overcome emotional difficulties and behavioral problems.
Since depression is partially the result of genetic factors and chemical imbalances in the brain, psychiatric medication is a standard for individuals with moderate-to-severe depressive episodes.
The optimal dose of an antidepressant is the lowest effective dose that gives the fewest side effects. Medication is initially prescribed for 6 to 12 weeks, during which time psychiatrists will adjust the dosage based on patients’ feedback and overall condition. Those who respond well to a specific dose will continue treatment for 6 to 12 months.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, mental health professionals can choose from various antidepressants such as tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs).
Despite the unpleasant side effects, medication can drastically reduce the severity of symptoms and improve one’s overall quality of life.
Both psychologists and medical professionals agree that physical activity is a fundamental practice that brings numerous benefits to our health and wellbeing.
One recent study revealed that exercising is a low-cost, low stigma intervention to improve male mental health outcomes. More specifically, a minimum of 150 hours of moderate-to-intense physical activity per week can lower the prevalence of depression in men.
Don’t Be Ashamed to Ask for Help
Depression in men is a severe condition that often goes undiagnosed. If you think you might be dealing with a depressive episode, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Regardless of your gender, emotional suffering is not a sign of weakness. Consult a mental health professional who can help you gain clarity and take the first step toward a balanced and harmonious life.
- L. A. Martin, H. W. Neighbors and D. M. Griffith, “The Experience of Symptoms of Depression in Men vs Women,” JAMA Psychiatry, vol. 70, no. 10, pp. 1100-1106, 2013.
- M. L. Seney, H. Zhiguang, K. Cahill, L. French, R. Puralewski, J. Zhang, R. W. Logan, G. Tseng, D. A. Lewis and E. Sibille, “Opposite Molecular Signatures of Depression in Men and Women,” Biological Psychiatry, vol. 84, no. 1, pp. 18-27, 2018.
- NIH, “Men and Depression,” National Institute of Mental Health, January 2017. Available: Online [Accessed 16 October 2020].
- R. S. Eid, A. R. Gobinath and L. A. Galea, “Sex differences in depression: Insights from clinical and preclinical studies,” Progress in Neurobiology, vol. 176, pp. 86-102, 2019.
- D. Currier, R. Lindner, M. J. Spittal, S. Cvetkovski, J. Pirkis and D. R. English, “Physical activity and depression in men: Increased activity duration and intensity associated with lower likelihood of current depression,” Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 260, pp. 426-431, 2020.