Why Are The Signs Of Depression In Men Different?

Updated November 7, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Men and boys may face mental health stigmas that can cause accessing care for a mental illness to feel challenging or shameful. Depression is a common mental health condition that anyone of any gender can experience. Signs of depression, however, may vary between people of different genders. For example, men may be more likely to experience anger and aggression rather than sadness, and they may not realize that this can be a symptom of some types of depression, including major depressive disorder. 

There are five significant depression symptoms commonly seen in men, including overindulging in escapism, medical symptoms, substance use disorder, irritability, and risky behaviors. Although anyone may experience these symptoms, they may be more common in men.

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Wondering If You Might Be Struggling With Depression?

How Does Depression In Men Differ 

Even though the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders do not distinguish between depresison in women and men, depression in men can manifest differently than it can in women and people of other genders. These signs and symptoms often appear alongside various coping mechanisms and depression-influenced behaviors. In some cases, male depression may go undiagnosed because their untreated depression isn't recognized as depression. It's also possible that they will be reluctant to talk about depression symptoms, their symptoms will be downplayed, or they will resist reaching out for support. Depending on what signs and symptoms of major depressive disorder a person is experiencing, it's also possible for depression to be misdiagnosed as a different mood disorder.

Common symptoms of depression in men and boys include the following:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Difficulty enjoying previously enjoyed activities 
  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness

Men also may have symptoms that might not be initially recognized as clinical depression by health care providers or others in their life, including: 

  • Overindulging in escapism
  • Medical issues
  • Substance use disorder (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “drug abuse”)
  • Irritability
  • Risky behaviors

Men with depression and other health conditions might struggle without support due to stereotypes about what "masculinity" means to them. These stereotypes might condition men to limit their expression of emotions linked to depression or refuse emotional support or health services in order to avoid being perceived as "sensitive."

Because men are less likely to reach out for support, they may be at a greater risk of their depression symptoms going undiagnosed or undertreated (according to the National Institute of Health). It's also possible that certain physical symptoms can be directly tied up in stereotypes of male masculinity, like those that affect sexual desire. More than half of people with untreated depression experience sexual problems, which may further contribute to the lack of motivation to seek support.

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Unpacking Common Symptoms Of Depression In Men

People with depression might show many possible signs and symptoms of the mental health condition, some of which are found in people of all genders. However, the following symptoms are often reported in men diagnosed with depression.

Escapism

Overindulging in escapist behaviors could signal a desire to escape from reality or the symptoms of depression. These behaviors might vary but could involve an unhealthy or unsustainable amount of time and money. Some escapist behaviors common among depressed men may include the following:

  • Watching or paying for pornography
  • Playing video games 
  • Working out 
  • Gambling and sports betting
  • Watching sports 
  • Binge-watching shows or films
  • Using substances 
  • Having sex 

If you find yourself utilizing the above coping mechanisms or other distracting strategies to escape from depression symptoms or emotions, you might be experiencing escapism related to depression.

Medical Problems

Severe stress can indicate depression and might have an impact on physical health. Men struggling with stress and depression might experience headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and other ailments. Other physical manifestations of male depression may include sudden or significant weight loss or gain, fatigue, and a racing heartbeat.

Substance Use Disorder

Men may turn to alcohol or substances to cope with their depressive symptoms. Although doctors may be less likely to view this as a sign of depression in men, it is commonly reported by men experiencing symptoms of the condition. Substance use disorder (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “substance abuse disorder”) may also trigger depression on its own. However, the conditions are often connected. Substance use can also be a method of escapism used to cope with depression. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.

Irritability

While men with severe depression may open up and discuss their depressive symptoms, they might be more likely to express these symptoms through anger or in feelings of irritability. Testosterone occurs in higher levels in those assigned male at birth or those taking testosterone as hormone treatment. This hormone has been associated with higher rates of aggression, irritability, and hostility, which may cause irritability for cisgender men and trans-masculine individuals taking hormones. 

Medical professionals may not see irritability as a sign of male depression as it may be linked to traditional "masculine" stereotypes. Men may be able to refute this by letting their medical provider know they're concerned about how they feel and would like to be evaluated for depression.

Risky Behaviors

Along with substance use disorder, men who are experiencing depression may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including dangerous driving, binge drinking, sex, and gambling, as well as other risky financial behaviors. People may use these behaviors as a shield to mask or distract from their depression. These symptoms might be mistaken for another condition, such as bipolar disorder, or a stereotype about how men should act.   

Reducing the "male experience" to risky behaviors may also feel invalidating for men. If doctors, friends, family, and others perpetuate the idea that men must partake in frequent sex, drink alcohol socially, or spend lots of money, men may grow up believing that these behaviors are normal and not part of an underlying concern. They might also sense that they are not being taken seriously if they try to reach out for depression support or talk to peers.

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Wondering If You Might Be Struggling With Depression?

Combatting Depression In Men

There are several ways to fight depression, including discussing your concerns with a professional, joining support groups, making changes to your lifestyle, and in some cases, taking antidepressant medications. A medical professional may be able to tell you about any possible side effects or drug interactions before you take a medication. There are alternative options for depression treatment as well, including brain stimulation therapies. Certain therapies, like repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, have been shown to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms.

Brain stimulation therapies are usually reserved for treatment-resistant cases of depression, and it may be helpful to explore more conventional avenues of treatment first, like interpersonal therapy or counseling. It may also be important to stay in the right mindset. Thinking of depression as a condition you are experiencing instead of a “mental health problem” can help you stay positive as you consider seeking treatment. Although it can feel scary to consider professional treatment for depression, meeting with a therapist or counselor can be a brave first step to finding support. 

Its also possible for a person to have thoughts of suicide while experiencing depression. Suicide prevention is of vital importance; if you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is essential you reach out immediately. You can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (which is available 24/7) by dialing 988. 

Often, men discuss an urge to be strong or stoic for their partners, families, or friends and feel unable to voice their needs because doing so would take up space. This can be particularly true when they are experiencing a mental illness like depression. Because families may share the same primary care provider, men may also feel uncomfortable discussing mental health concerns like depression with their family doctor. Setting up a space just for yourself may allow you to focus more actively on your mental health. If you worry about visiting an in-person counselor, you can also try online therapy, which allows a more discreet treatment. You can choose between video, phone, or live chat sessions and can use your name or a nickname on the site. If you're uncomfortable spending a lot of money on depression treatment, online therapy may be much more affordable than traditional counseling. Studies show that online therapy may be more effective for men than for people of other genders, as online treatment often allows for the removal of gender-based stereotypes in treatment. 

If you're interested in talking to a professional online about depression treatment options or depression risk factors for men, consider signing up for an online platform like BetterHelp, which offers a growing database of therapists. When you sign up, you can indicate if you feel most comfortable speaking to a male therapist.

Takeaway

Stereotypes, hormones, and societal pressures may cause men to struggle to seek treatment, which may worsen depression symptoms or cause them to go unnoticed. If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of this mental health condition, consider reaching out to a counselor for further compassionate insight and support. If your symptoms make it difficult to leave home for therapy, you may benefit from speaking with an online therapist about how to treat depression. Take the first step toward getting support for depression and contact BetterHelp today.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

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