Signs Of Depression In Men: What To Look Out For?
Anyone can experience depression, but the signs and symptoms vary among people. For example, some people express sadness, while others show anger or frustration. Women tend to be more expressive and willing to seek help for depression than men. However, men sometimes have more physical symptoms that are associated with depression.
While men and women may experience and express depression differently, making blanket statements about any group of people is inappropriate and can be harmful. In this article, the terms “men” and “women” refer to a gender description.
Table of Contents
What Is Depression?
Depression, also referred to as clinical depression or major depressive disorder, is a serious mental illness that is classified as a mood disorder. It affects all aspects of a person’s life, including how they think, feel, and perform everyday tasks.1 About 17% of people will experience major depression at some point in their lifetime, and about 3% to 5% have it at any given time. Globally, about 322 million people live with depression, and about 17.3 million people in the United States had at least one episode of depression in 2017. This represents about 7.1% of the population.2
There are two common forms of depression:3
- Major depression: symptoms of depression that last at least two weeks and interfere with daily life.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): less severe symptoms that last much longer, typically at least two years.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), major depressive disorder is defined as experiencing five or more of the following symptoms during the same two-week period, and at least one of those symptoms should be a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure:4
- Depressed or empty mood for most of the day, nearly every day
- Diminished or complete loss of interest or pleasure in most or all activities, nearly every day
- Significant weight loss or weight gain (5% within a month), or decrease/increase in appetite nearly every day
- Insomnia or a need for excessive amounts of sleep nearly every day
- Slow movement or thoughts or agitation nearly every day that is observed by others
- Fatigue or low energy nearly every day
- Decreased ability to concentrate, think, or make decisions nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation, a suicide attempt, or a specific plan for committing suicide
The exact causes of depression are not fully understood. However, some factors put people at a higher risk of depression, including:1,4
- Family history
- Traumatic life events
- Periods of increased stress
- Job or relationship loss
- Being divorced or separated
- Having a serious medical illness
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Depression In Men?
Signs and symptoms of depression in men vary, but may include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, pessimism, hopelessness, or emptiness
- Lack of energy
- Excessive sleeping
- Excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most daily activities
- Changes in appetite that leads to weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in memory, attention, or concentration
- Reckless behavior
- Unexplained aches and pains
Male-depression syndrome (Male-DS) refers to depressive symptoms that are more common in men. This constellation of symptoms does not specify that they must occur in men. In one study, Male-DS was more common in female students than in male students.5 Symptoms associated with Male-DS include:6
- Emotional suppression
- Substance misuse
- Risk-seeking behaviors
Men with depression may exhibit an increase in sexual activity as an escaping behavior7 or have less interest in sex, a lower libido, and an increase in erectile dysfunction. Relationship problems are common when one partner has depressive symptoms or major depressive disorder. Seeing a psychologist or counselor specializing in relationships and mood disorders may help. In addition, lifestyle changes may improve mood and increase male libido. Learn 7 methods to increase male libido.
Is Depression More Common In Men?
Depression begins most commonly in the second and fifth decades of life. Women are diagnosed with major depressive disorders twice as often as men.8 Multiple reasons for this disparity have been considered, including:6
- Men may be less likely to seek help
- Concealing sadness is considered a masculine norm
While undiagnosed depression is widespread in both populations, it is more common among men. Misdiagnosis in men is likely because of men’s tendencies to deny illness, self-monitor and self-treat symptoms, and avoid seeking help from healthcare practitioners.7
While men are less likely to be diagnosed with depression, they are four times more likely to die by suicide. In older men, this increases to seven times more likely.7 In 2017, the rate of suicide completion for men was 22.4%, and for women, it was 6.1%. Men tend to use more lethal means and show fewer signs of impending suicide.7
A study analyzing the symptoms of depression in men and women found when all potential symptoms of depression are considered, including the ones more common in men, the rate of depression in men and women is about the same.9
What Should A Man With Depressive Symptoms Do?
If you are experiencing depression, the highest priority is to let someone know you are feeling depressed and empty. Then, make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Medical conditions, such as vitamin D deficiency, hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, and prescribed medications, can contribute to depression.
If someone you know is experiencing symptoms consistent with depression, do not be afraid to ask them if they are considering suicide. Listen to their answer without judgment and help them establish a connection with someone who can help.
If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 988 in the United States. You can also text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
Lifestyle Changes May Boost Mood And Reduce Depressive Symptoms
Everyone experiences depression differently. Sometimes depression is triggered by external events, and commonly, it is not. You do not have to have a “reason” for being depressed. Sometimes you just are. The frequency, duration, and severity of your symptoms will probably differ greatly from those of another person living with depression. What works to improve mood and reduce depressive symptoms in one person may not work for another person with the same symptoms.
Besides medical care, lifestyle changes may help boost mood and reduce depressive symptoms. Try some or all of the following:
- Exercise: exercise improves mood. An analysis of 23 clinical trials found that physical exercise had a moderate to large effect on depression symptoms and could be used as an adjunct to other therapies.10 Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day for a total of 150 minutes per week or more.
- Get 7 to 9 hours of high-quality sleep each night.
- Eat regular, nutritious meals: avoid processed foods, sugar, and refined grains.11 Try to center your diet on whole foods.
- Reach out to people in whatever ways are most comfortable for you.
- Avoid using nicotine, alcohol, or drugs to self-medicate depression.
- Try to manage stress and build resilience.
- Join a support group for people living with depression.
- Challenge negative thought patterns or persistent thoughts by questioning yourself to see if you really believe them to be true.
- Spend time in nature and boost your vitamin D by spending time outdoors.
Depression is a serious medical condition. However, with time and support (both social and medical), you will start to feel better.
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- Park LT, Zarate CA, Jr. Depression in the Primary Care Setting. N Engl J Med. Feb 7 2019;380(6):559-568. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1712493
- Möller-Leimkühler AM, Yücel M. Male depression in females? Journal of Affective Disorders. 2010/02/01/ 2010;121(1):22-29. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2009.05.007
- Sedlinská T, Mühle C, Richter-Schmidinger T, Weinland C, Kornhuber J, Lenz B. Male depression syndrome is characterized by pronounced Cluster B personality traits. J Affect Disord. Sep 1 2021;292:725-732. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2021.05.114
- Ogrodniczuk JS, Oliffe JL. Men and depression. Can Fam Physician. Feb 2011;57(2):153-5.
- Kuehner C. Why is depression more common among women than among men? Lancet Psychiatry. Feb 2017;4(2):146-158. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(16)30263-2
- Martin LA, Neighbors HW, Griffith DM. The Experience of Symptoms of Depression in Men vs Women: Analysis of the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013;70(10):1100-1106. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.1985
- Marx W, Lane M, Hockey M, et al. Diet and depression: exploring the biological mechanisms of action. Molecular Psychiatry. 2021/01/01 2021;26(1):134-150. doi:10.1038/s41380-020-00925-x