Originally published on Blackdoctor.org
“While the symptoms used to diagnose depression are the same regardless of gender, often the chief complaint can be different among men and women,” says Ian A. Cook, MD, the Miller Family professor of psychiatry at the University of California–Los Angeles.
Common signs of depression in men can include:
1. Sleeping Too Much Or Too Little
Sleep problems—such as insomnia, waking up very early in the morning, or excessive sleeping—are common depression symptoms.
“[Some people] sleep 12 hours a day and still feel exhausted or toss and turn and wake up every two hours,” says Dr. Cook.
Like fatigue, sleep troubles are one of the main symptoms that depressed men may discuss with their doctor, experts say.
But men often don’t realize that chronic pain and digestive disorders go hand in hand with depression, according to focus groups conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health. Norman Sussman, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU Langone Medical Center, says people who are depressed do genuinely feel bad physically.
“It is a medical disorder,” says Dr. Sussman.
3. Loss of Focus
Psychomotor retardation can slow down a man’s ability to process information, thereby impairing
concentration on work or other tasks.
“Depression fills one with negative thoughts, almost like an intrusion,” Klapow says. “You’re slowed down and constantly thinking about negative things in your world. As a result, it makes it very difficult to focus on anything.”
“I describe depression as a form of reversible brain failure, Dr. Sussman says. “When you’re depressed, it’s like your CPU isn’t working properly.”
Some men manifest depression by being hostile, angry, or aggressive, says. Dr. Sussman. “A man who realizes something is wrong may need to compensate by demonstrating that he is still strong or capable,” he says.
Anger and hostility are different than irritability. “Anger tends to be a stronger emotion,” Klapow says. “Irritability is a crankiness.”
Dr. Sussman says he’s also seen men become hostile when they have withdrawn as a result of their depression and feel under pressure by friends or family to rejoin society.
“Men might be more likely to report symptoms of depression as stress. It’s not that they have more stress; it’s that it’s more socially acceptable to report it,” Klapow says.
According to Dr. Cook, stress and depression can also travel a two-way street. “It’s accurate to say that feeling stressed can be an indicator of having clinical depression but also be part of the cause,” he says.
Research has shown that prolonged exposure to stress can lead to changes both in the body and brain, which can in turn lead to depression.
6. Substance Abuse
“It can happen for both men and women, but using drugs or alcohol to mask uncomfortable feelings is a strategy many men will
employ instead of seeking health care,” says Dr. Cook.
“There’s a cultural bias of, ‘I should be able to fix this myself and so I’ll use what chemicals I have available to me to do that,’” Dr. Cook says.
7. Sexual Dysfunction
Depression is a common reason for loss of desire and erectile dysfunction (ED), and it’s one symptom that men are inclined not to report. “Performance problems can come from depression and make depression worse,” Dr. Cook says.
However, ED can be the result of other medical conditions or medications (including antidepressants), and ED by itself does not signal depression.
8. Suicidal Thoughts
Women are more likely to attempt suicide, but men are more than four times as likely to die if they do attempt suicide. One reason is that men tend to choose more lethal methods.
“They more often use firearms and kill themselves the first time they try,” Dr. Cook says.
Older men are at the highest risk for suicide, and doctors may miss depression symptoms in this group. In fact, more than 70% of older suicide victims saw their primary care physician within the month of their death.