For some time now, conventional wisdom has held that women are twice as likely to develop depressive disorders as men. Now, evidence has emerged that men and women actually get depressed at equal rates — but women are twice as likely to be diagnosed, perhaps because they’re more in touch with their feelings and more comfortable discussing those feelings with friends, relatives, and physicians. According to research published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2013, depression symptoms are also markedly different in men than in women.
Women tend to exhibit what you probably think of as the “classic” symptoms of depression — sadness, inability to feel pleasure, excessive crying, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, lethargy, oversleeping, and social withdrawal. Men, on the other hand, tend to exhibit more feelings of anger, irritability, and aggression than do women. They experience more physical symptoms of depression and may even experience depression without the characteristic low mood and feelings of sadness.
Of course, just because men experience different depression symptoms than women doesn’t mean they don’t need and deserve treatment for the disorder. Men often aren’t diagnosed with depression until the disease has reached its advanced stages, because the symptoms of depression in men look so unusual to most people. And because men are more likely to become physically violent and aggressive, or to commit suicide using more lethal means, untreated depression is more dangerous in men than it is in women.
While many men don’t feel comfortable with psychotherapy for depression, drugs like Abilify and Seroquel can help men find relief from depression symptoms. But first, it’s important to recognize the ways in which depression symptoms differ between the sexes, so that if a man in your life develops depression, you can spot it.
Depressed Men Abuse Substances More than Depressed Women
While depressed women tend to respond to their feelings by withdrawing from social contact or using food, unhealthy romantic relationships, or friend relationships to self-medicate, men more often cope with their feelings by abusing alcohol or drugs. Heavy drinking and illegal drug use tends to precede the onset of depression in men, especially very young ones. While women may use substances to cope, they tend to begin doing so only after depression and anxiety symptoms have taken hold in earnest.
Men may also try to cope with depression by working long hours, driving too fast, having unsafe sex with multiple partners, gambling, smoking, watching too much TV, or becoming overly involved in sports. While men can experience feelings of sadness, fatigue, and an inability to feel pleasure because of depression, their feelings may instead manifest as unexplained anger and hostility. They may even lash out and become violent, blaming all of their problems on others, often illogically.
Women suffering from depression are more likely than men to dwell on their negative thoughts and feelings, a practice known as rumination. Rumination can include blaming yourself for all the problems in your life, crying for no reason, or participating in negative self-talk. It’s part of the reason why depressed women often suffer from low self-esteem. Men, on the other hand, tend to use escapist behavior to distract themselves from negative feelings and thoughts.
Men Have a Harder Time Asking for Depression Help
Most men learn early in life to practice stoic self-control and not to talk about their feelings. As a result, depressed men may downplay the severity of depression symptoms, and may be reluctant to admit that they’re feeling depressed, even to themselves. Even after men recognize depression symptoms, that doesn’t mean they’re going to feel comfortable discussing them with others, whether those others are family members, friends, a romantic partner, or a family physician. Men are more likely to fear the stigma of getting mental health treatment and may worry that a depression diagnosis could cost them the respect of friends and loved ones or damage their careers.
Furthermore, a significant percentage of depressed men don’t realize they’re suffering from depression at all. These men may experience fewer emotional symptoms and more physical symptoms, like headaches, fatigue, chronic pain, or gastrointestinal problems. Instead of feeling sad, men may feel lonely and isolated. Most people wouldn’t make the connection between physical symptoms and mental illness, so it can be difficult for men whose depression symptoms are primarily physical to recognize the source of their complaints.
Men Need Depression Treatment, Too
While women are more likely to ask for depression help, men may arguably need that help more. That’s because men are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior, like substance abuse or unsafe sex, in order to cope with depression symptoms. They’re also more likely to successfully commit suicide, because they use more lethal methods, act more decisively on their suicidal thoughts, and are less likely to discuss their suicidal feelings or show other warning signs.
It’s not true that women get depressed more often than men — new evidence shows that men and women get depressed at equal rates, but men exhibit different symptoms than their female counterparts. Even though male depression symptoms may be different, they are no less serious. If you or a man you know is suffering from male depression symptoms, get help today.