Recognizing the Signs: How Depression Manifests Differently in Men

Apr 19, 20246 min
Blog's Cover Image picture


“Men don’t cry!”

“Men need to be tough!”

“Just man up dude!”

We've all heard these phrases before; phrases that define our attitude towards emotions based on gender. Imagine being a young child, crying over a painful injury or an emotional heartbreak that feels like the end of the world, and then being told to “man up,” instead of being gently asked what's making you cry, how you feel about it, and what you think you can do about it.

When feelings are dismissed and thinking dictated by gender norms is heard repeatedly, a young child learns to avoid expressing their real feelings and begins to bottle up sadness. Over time, such behaviour can lead to a dysfunctional emotional expression and ultimately, depression.

So when men go through depression, how would they even identify that when they haven't been able to name and express their emotions healthily?

Depression in Men

Before we get into how depression manifests in men, let me ask you to picture what depression looks like.

Are you seeing someone crying, moping, with an inability to get started with any task, because everything seems so daunting?    

Typically we tend to picture these traditional signs and symptoms of depression since they are common knowledge. However, they may not represent many men's experience of depression. To better understand the difference, generally, women with depression tend to “act in” (sleeping too much, crying, overeating, drinking too much, failing to fully function, etc.), while men with depression tend to “act out” with unpleasant behaviours (impatience, irritability, and anger) (Diamond, 2019).  

With the stigma around asking for help and mental health, gender norms as well as the difference in signs of depression, several research studies have found that men are less likely than women to seek help for mental health problems, especially depression. And that is why these mental health problems including depression, often go undiagnosed and untreated for men.

Signs of Depression for Men

Men and women might have differences in the signs of depression but one thing that remains common is how depression brings changes in the way one thinks, feels or behaves when going through a depressive episode. As we look into the signs of depression let me remind you that almost everyone experiences some of these signs occasionally but when these symptoms appear often or won’t go away, then one may be experiencing depression. Talking about differences, men are more likely to visit a doctor for the physical symptoms of depression, such as feeling tired or losing weight, rather than saying they feel low.

Signs Of Depression for Men - Therapyclub

Therefore, they may start by noticing physical signs, such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping or feeling tired
  • Changed appetite — with or without weight loss or gain
  • Feeling run down or unwell
  • Loss of sexual desire or performance
  • Headaches 
  • Muscle pain
  • Churning stomach, constipation  
  • Chest tightness
  • Heart racing, palpitations 

When it comes to feelings, they may be:

  • Irritable, Angry, Agitated or Frustrated
  • Sad or Empty
  • Disappointed
  • Restless 
  • Indecisive or Overwhelmed
  • Helpless or Hopeless
  • Guilty

They may think negative thoughts, such as:

  • You are not important or valuable (Low self-esteem)
  • People would be better off without you
  • Your life is not enjoyable

Other mental signs would include memory problems and not being able to concentrate

They may also start behaving differently — for example, by:

  • Not going out with friends or family
  • Not managing as well as you normally do at work or school
  • Escaping into work or sports activities
  • Not doing activities you normally look forward to
  • Relying on drugs or alcohol to make it through the day
  • Behaving recklessly

How do Men Cope With Depression?

Since men are socialized by society to hold in their emotions, they may develop complicated feelings towards their own emotions. Often, they attempt to shut them off or avoid them completely which isn’t healthy. Therefore, in their efforts to maintain these social norms, many men compromise their emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

This might also be the reason why men are more likely to use external methods to cope with the inward turmoil and pain caused by depression. Often men deal with depression by overworking themselves. They may also self-medicate by turning to substances such as drugs and alcohol as a way to avoid dealing with depression and anxiety

Lastly, many men may express their internal conflicts by directing anger at those around them, like their partners or children. Anger is often their way of showcasing their distress since it is considered a “culturally acceptable” way.

So, what do all of these external “coping” methods have in common? None of them help men cope with, or even face, what they are struggling with.

Some men never seek help for their depression because they never recognize the signs. On the other hand, some men who do recognize the signs may struggle to discuss their experiences because they fear the judgment of others. 

I have had male clients express in sessions how their friends would not be supportive if they were to voice their distress and would rather respond with another “Man up, get over it!” This lack of support from their close ones creates another obstacle for them in seeking help during stressful times.  

Suicidal Ideations are also common in depression and while both men and women have them, men in depression are more likely to die by suicide. Now this can be contributed to men choosing to act on their suicidal thoughts with more violent methods but also to the lack of social support. During Covid-19 when socialising became a huge challenge, it gave way for loneliness especially for men. Even now the effect of that loneliness persists which is why men are experiencing a loneliness epidemic these days. The epidemic simply amplifies the systemic issue of lack of social support that lay dormant earlier. Just as we discussed earlier, gender roles that dismiss men’s emotional experience and dont allow them to express themselves create space for loneliness to sink in. Therefore, making it all the more difficult for men in depression to cope effectively.   

Seeing differences in how depression manifests for men, we can help them recognize the signs and encourage them to seek help. By seeking treatment, men with depression can live their fullest possible lives. If you or anyone you know might benefit from reaching out to a therapist then do refer to the list of qualified therapists at Mave Health.

What To Take Away?

While recent conversations around mental health have become more candid and inclusive, many men still find it difficult to talk about their emotions in a society that upholds traditional views about gender.

It can also be challenging to identify the different signs and symptoms of depression in men since they are influenced by those same social factors as well as male biology.

By sharing knowledge about the symptoms of depression in men, we can help clear a pathway toward better, more inclusive mental healthcare.

In the end, it falls on all of us to create a safe and supportive environment where men can overcome the stigma of asking for help and seek treatment that not only helps them deal with their mental health concerns but also improves their quality of life! 

References

American Psychological Association. (2005, July 14). Men: A Different Depression. American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 3, 2024, from https://www.apa.org/topics/men-boys/depression 

Boland, M., & Sabogal, D. (2022, Oct). Men's mental health: What affects it and how to improve support. Medical News Today. Retrieved February 3, 2024, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mens-mental-health-man-up-is-not-the-answer#stigma

Diamond, J. (2019). Depression: Gender Matters. ATrain Education |. Retrieved February 16, 2024, from https://www.atrainceu.com/sites/default/files/Depression-Gender-Print%20and%20Go.pdf 

Greene, N. (2021, April 7). Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Men. Healthline. Retrieved February 3, 2024, from https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/symptoms-of-depression-in-men#treatment-options 

Montero, H. A. (2022, June). Depression in Men: The Cycle of Toxic Masculinity. Psycom.net. Retrieved February 3, 2024, from https://www.psycom.net/depression/depression-in-men/toxic-masculinity 

Weiss, R. (2018, October 25). 14 Major Signs of Depression in Men. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 3, 2024, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-and-sex-in-the-digital-age/201810/14-major-signs-of-depression-in-men 

Author's Profile picture
Suvrita
Psychologist | Mental Health | Gender & Sexuality