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Men May Not Recognize or Downplay Signs of Depression

The statistics about men’s mental health in the U.S. are not encouraging. Mental Health America reports that six million men in the U.S. are affected by depression each year. Four times as many men as women die by suicide annually, with male suicide on the rise since 2000. Yet many men do not seek treatment or recognize the signs of depression.

Gender Norms and Societal Expectations

According to Jason Hunziker, MD, division chief of adult psychiatry at Huntsman Mental Health Institute, there are various reasons men are less likely to recognize and seek treatment for depression. “One factor is related to societal expectations and gender norms that discourage men from expressing vulnerability or sadness,” he says. “Men may feel pressure to be strong, self-reliant, and avoid appearing weak. Consequently, they may downplay their symptoms or attribute them to external factors such as work stress or fatigue.”

Symptoms May Differ from Those of Women

Symptoms among men may be different from those that women often exhibit. “While the core symptoms of depression, such as consistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and difficulty concentrating, are common to both genders, men may exhibit certain signs that are less typical or less recognized as symptoms of depression,” Hunziker explains.

According to Hunziker, men with depression may be more likely to:

  • Be irritable or angry
  • Exhibit aggression
  • Engage in reckless or risky behavior, such as taking part in dangerous activities or risky sexual behavior
  • Misuse substances
  • Experience more physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain
  • Work too much

“Men may also find it harder to acknowledge feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or excessive guilt, which are common symptoms of depression,” Hunziker says. Some men will overwork or throw themselves into their work to distract themselves from their feelings instead of dealing with their depression. They may withdraw from family and friends, choosing to deal with depression on their own.

Why Men Need to Pay Attention to Their Health

Considerable research indicates that men between the ages of 18-64 seek mental and physical health care services less often than women. But Hunziker says that focusing on both mental and physical health is crucial for men because the two are interconnected and significantly impact overall well-being.

For example, conditions like heart disease or chronic pain can lead to depression or anxiety due to the stress and lifestyle limitations they impose. Likewise, depression can lead to a lack of motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle, resulting in poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and other unhealthy behaviors.

Neglecting mental health can have serious consequences, too, including strained relationships, decreased productivity, and a reduced ability to enjoy life. In severe cases, untreated mental health issues can lead to self-harm or suicide. By focusing on mental and physical health, men can improve their quality of life, enhance their overall well-being, and increase longevity.

Ask for Help!

Asking for help, especially regarding mental health, can be challenging but essential in caring for one's well-being. Hunziker has many tips to help men get started on the right path. He suggests that when you reach out for help, you are as specific as possible about what you are experiencing. It can help others direct you to the proper care and resources.

  • Reach out to a trusted person. Talk to a close friend, family member, or mentor about what you're experiencing. Share your feelings and concerns openly and honestly. This can be the first step toward seeking help.
  • Consult a mental health professional. Seek support from a licensed therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist.
  • Utilize helplines, support groups, and community resources. Many helplines and support groups offer anonymous and confidential assistance. They can provide a listening ear, information, and guidance, which can be particularly helpful if you aren’t ready to talk to someone in your personal life.
  • Talk to a primary care physician. Your primary care physician can assess your symptoms, provide initial support, and refer you to appropriate mental health professionals.
  • Use online resources. Online platforms that provide mental health resources and support—including online therapy and counseling services—can be a good starting point, especially for those who feel uncomfortable seeking help in person.

Two final reminders from Hunziker: Don’t give up if the first person or resource you contact is not helpful, and practice self-compassion!