In New Zealand over recent years there has been a high-profile push to raise awareness of depression in men – by finding sportsmen and comedians and “good Kiwi blokes” to get the conversation started and help remove the stigma of male mental health issues.
That’s not to say that there’s more men than women suffering from depression (studies such as this one from the University of Michigan found that “when alternative and traditional symptoms are combined, sex disparities in the prevalence of depression are eliminated”) it’s just that mental illness can manifest itself differently in the two sexes.
In a nutshell, what’s traditionally been the “mark of a man” – stoicism, machoism, being the “strong, silent type” – has covered up the reporting of symptoms relating to depression. But many of these attributes can actually lead to unhealthy coping behaviours which may be a pointer towards depression alongside the more regular symptoms such as a change in weight or appetite, sleep issues, fatigue, issues surrounding concentration, feelings of worthlessness and indecision, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
For example, typical indicators of externalising depression may include:
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Irritability and anger
- Violence, abuse or controlling behaviour
- Taking abnormal risks
- Avoidant behaviour – for example burying yourself in work
And because men tend to externalise their depression, it can be more difficult for someone else to diagnose and for someone battling depression to understand. Depression is supposed to be about sadness, crying and feeling down, right? Well, not necessarily for men.
Other reasons why men aren’t as likely to be diagnosed with depression include:
- Men tend to ignore or cover up symptoms with unhealthy behaviour because they don’t see how much they affect them.
- Men tend not to understand the physical symptoms of depression such as headaches, digestive problems and physical pain.
- Men tend not to want to talk through their problems either with friends or with a doctor or therapist and so are less likely to reveal symptoms.
- Men tend to resist treatment for all types of illness – not just those related to mental health – and so even those who recognise symptoms may still avoid acting to relieve them.
The main impetus of most male depression campaigns has been to try to lift the stigma and shame surrounding talking about mental health – and for good reason: statistics show that although women attempt suicide more often than men, men tend to kill themselves more often.
This is because they use more lethal methods, act more quickly on suicidal thoughts, talk about potentially committing suicide far less, and show fewer warning signs.
So it’s important for both men who recognise their own symptoms of depression and those around them who understand the symptoms to start that conversation. Treatment can involve medication or therapy or a combination of both – and is far more likely to help the symptoms than leaving the depression untreated.
Depression affects almost every aspect of someone’s life – and that of those around you – and can be caused by a range of triggers such as work, relationship, chronic health or financial problems, isolation, life changes or drug and alcohol dependency.
It’s likely to affect one in eight New Zealand men at some stage of their lifetime and is therefore not something which can be swept under the carpet and ignored.
Robert Street Clinic has a wide range of psychotherapists, psychiatrists and psychologists with experience working with men of all ages and from all parts of society. For more information on how we can help you or someone you feel may be depressed, call us on 09 973 5950, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or message us via the website.