According to the World Health Organization, depression affects more than 264 million people globally and is the leading cause of disability. Depression is a particular concern for people with substance use disorders. One study found that among people with major depression, 16.5 percent had an alcohol use disorder and 18 percent had a drug use disorder–more than twice the rate of those issues in the general population. For a number of reasons, including biological and social factors, depression is more common in women than in men. Women, for example, are subjected to more extreme hormonal changes, especially around menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause, and women are more likely to be victims of abuse and sexual assault. All of these have been shown to increase your risk of depression.
However, a lot of men are under the mistaken impression that depression is a female problem. In reality, the difference is not huge. About 8.7 percent of women had a depressive episode in 2017 compared to about 5.3 percent of men. What’s more, many experts believe that depression is generally underreported in men, suggesting those numbers might be even closer. Part of the problem is that depression symptoms look different in men and men behave differently when depressed. Here are some ways depression is different for men.
When most people think of depression, they typically imagine something like persistent sadness, hopelessness, or sleeping all day. While those symptoms are fairly common, they are not always present. What’s more, they tend to be more common in women. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to experience depression symptoms like irritability, anger, aggression, and disturbed sleep. While some studies suggest that men and women both report irritability at roughly equal rates, men often feel like irritability is a more socially acceptable emotion to express, whereas sadness is less acceptable.
Men are also more likely to experience physical symptoms that most people would not recognize as depression. These might include headaches, body aches, digestive problems, racing heart, or tightness in the chest. Men are actually more likely to see their doctor about physical problems than emotional ones, so a diagnosis of depression in men often starts with physical complaints for which no physical cause can be found.
In addition to these “male-typical” symptoms, men may experience other symptoms that are frequently not recognized as depressive symptoms. These may include losing interest in things you typically enjoy, inability to concentrate, emotional numbness, lack of motivation, slow movements, feeling helpless, and thoughts of suicide or death.
As noted above, men are more likely to seek help for physical problems than for emotional problems. Men are also much less likely than women to seek help for a mental health issue, even if they have noticed symptoms. In fact, studies show that men seek help for mental health issues at only about half the rate of women. Part of this is because men experience different symptoms and may not even identify them as related to a mental health issue, as discussed above. Part of it is also that men are less willing to acknowledge or discuss emotions like sadness, hopelessness, and other depression symptoms. Men have been taught from a young age not to cry, not to complain, to take care of their own problems, and so on. This discomfort makes men less likely to acknowledge that they need help and less likely to seek it out.
It’s important for men to realize that depression is just as much a physical condition as an emotional one. While it may be common to experience depression primarily through emotional symptoms, recent research keeps finding more connections between mental and physical health. For example, depression has been connected to physical factors like diet, inflammation, obesity, and gut health. Mental and physical health are really just two sides to the same coin.
Another depression symptom more common to men than women is drug and alcohol use. As with irritability and aggression, many men feel like substance use is a safer way to express and deal with depression. Culturally, men are more likely to see a stiff drink as a reasonable way to cope with emotional turmoil or relax after a hard day. In reality, drugs and alcohol are, at best, temporary solutions, which only make the problem worse in the long run. Drug and alcohol use may also be a deliberate form of self-destruction because of their deleterious health effects, as well as their tendency to increase the likelihood of impulsive behavior and accidents. For many men, drug or alcohol use may be the biggest symptom of depression hiding in plain sight.
One of the worst consequences of depression for men is death by suicide. Although women are more likely to be diagnosed with depression and more likely to attempt suicide, men are about four times more likely to die by suicide. This is typically attributed to men’s greater impulsiveness and willingness to use more lethal means, such as a gun, as opposed to pills.
Although men are less likely than women to suffer from major depression, men do get depressed and it’s something to take very seriously. If you’re a man struggling with drug or alcohol use, there’s a strong possibility that depression is at least part of the equation. It’s critical to find a treatment program that can treat depression concurrently with substance use issues. Without treating the depression, it’s very hard to stay sober. At Enlightened Solutions, we know that helping someone recover from a substance use disorder requires treating the whole person. Most importantly, we try to foster a sense of meaning and connection that will help our clients live joyful, sober lives. To learn more, call us at 833-801-LIVE.
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