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From the sound of it, the signs of depression in men would be easy to spot. A person in the depths of despair might look unhappy, you might think. Someone who is contemplating suicide should not whistle as they walk down the street or smile at strangers, according to the common perception of depression. However, what most people don’t realise is that someone can feel crushingly cold and alone while laughing and joking in a room full of family and friends. Depression can be hard to spot.
Depression is currently the biggest killer of people between the ages of 20 and 34 in most of the developed world. It is the second largest killer overall. Depression is the largest health problem in the world. Every year the number of people who have committed suicide continues to rise. The physical symptoms and side effects of depression range from heart disease and stroke, to disabilities and obesity.
Men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women in the UK, five times more likely in Ireland. The reasons for this are thought to be an unwillingness to open up to people who could help them, a higher rate of social isolation, employment status being more important and social exclusion being more likely after divorce. In reality, it remains a paradox.
Because the rate of suicide is so much higher in men, even though women are more likely to feel suicidal feelings, spotting the signs of depression in men is of vital importance. Every year 800,000 people end their lives, most of them men. If the public were more aware of depression and suicide, it is likely that the stigma that men feel so strongly about getting help would be reduced. Knowledge could save lives.
Men and women do tend to experience different types of depression. In broad general terms, women’s experience of depression can be more one of sadness, whereas men’s can include anger and aggression. Because these traits are not often associated with depression or are common in other mental health issues they are not as easily diagnosed.
Many men tend to be less willing to talk about their feelings than women. A culture of masculinity and a generally lower level of introspection and emotional intelligence in some men might be contributors to this. Because men do not talk about depression, their feelings can be bottled up and suppressed in a way that is believed to intensify negative thoughts down the line.
Sleeping is often more disrupted in male depression than in female depression, and men can feel fatigued, lose interest in their work, relationships, and recreational activities. Often depression comes with physical symptoms like headaches, problems with digestion, chest tightness or racing heart. Men are more willing to see doctors for these kinds of symptoms than the mental conditions that are causing them. Men are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than women, and they are more likely to turn to substances to alleviate their issues than females. This is a major risk factor and may be another reason why so many men attempt suicide.
The National Institute of Mental Health in the United States lists dozens of the signs and symptoms of depression in men. These five are some of the most common and easiest to spot signs of depression in men.
Anger, Aggression, and Irritation
Men are much more likely to commit violent crimes, display aggression, or fight than women. Many men display these behaviours when they are not depressed, feeling irritable is common after all. However, it is when aggression, anger or irritability is unusual, especially severe, uncharacteristic or obviously concerning that they may indicate depression.
Loss of Interest
Things that excited or interested the man before might not do so during a major depressive episode. Work, play, family and friends can seem impossibly distant and the person might not have the energy or will to engage with them. A depressed man might go around appearing like they are engaging with the world, but in quiet moments seem disconnected or distant. There are subtle clues that a man might not be as interested as he would like you to think but this can be extremely difficult to spot.
When a person is depressed, the threshold for being satisfied by something is much higher and the inhibitions that might have stopped him from doing something before are less powerful. The need for something that numbs the pain, or makes him feel anything at all, can be desperate and incredibly powerful. These are some of the clearest signs of depression in men
Risk factors can include excessive drinking or taking drugs, breaking the speed limit, having promiscuous or unprotected sex, picking fights, gambling, or spending recklessly.
A previously gregarious, social man or boy who drops off the radar for a few days or weeks could be exhibiting clear signs of depression. Social anxiety is a big problem with depression, as is a loss of interest, fear, a need for comfort, irritation, sadness and anger; all things that can lead to a person choosing to isolate themselves or be unable to engage in social activities. If someone is not replying on their phone, does not turn up for arranged meetings, or refuses to answer the door, there is a good chance they are feeling depressed.
Fatigue and Tiredness
Depression is exhausting. It can leave little energy for anything else. A boy or man who has a disrupted sleep pattern, needs to sleep during the day when this is unusual for them, sleeps in, misses appointments, falls asleep in class or at work, or simply cannot be bothered to do things could be depressed.
Treatment is Available
Antidepressant medication, therapy and a person who will listen are all available to treat depression. If you think you or someone you know are exhibiting signs of depression, there is help available. A visit to your family doctor or with a mental health professional can make all the difference. There are also lots of organisations doing wonderful and important work in mental health advocacy and services.
If you think you are feeling suicidal, or someone else you know is, please call the emergency services.