Signs of Depression in Men and What to Do Next

Written by Daniel Steingold on September 26, 2016

a doctor treating a man with depression

As mentioned in a previous blog post, women are twice as likely as men to experience and be diagnosed with depression.

While this may partially be due to the fact that women report symptoms of depression at a higher rate than men, this doesn’t provide a complete answer as to why there’s a wide disparity in diagnosis.

Furthermore, it discounts the fact that men can and do become depressed, begging the question: why do men get depressed?

This post will delve into the specific reasons that men get depressed, while also juxtaposing them with the causes for women.

Causes of Depression

Depression is often tricky to detect and cure because there is rarely a single cause.

Furthermore, depression has traditionally been seen as a “woman’s disease,” and this stigma has followed men suffering from it into modern times.

With this being said, many men have certain genetic and environmental triggers that contribute to the onset of depression.

As you could probably guess, you’re more likely to develop symptoms of depression if you have the predisposition in your family.

Studies have shown that in identical twins— siblings who share the same DNA from birth— if one twin develops depression, the other has a 76 percent chance to do the same.

In the general population, depression is one-and-a-half to three times more common amongst people who have first-degree biological relatives who suffer from it than people who don’t have close relatives who have suffered from it.

While there has been research on the possibility of particular genes behind depression, the results have been largely inconclusive. In the past decade or so, however, a few studies have provided evidence that some cases of depression could be linked to a specific region of a single chromosome.

As for possible environmental or non-genetic causes, there are quite a few. They include:

  • Stress from work, school, etc.

  • Relationship issues

  • Money issues

  • Poor diet

  • Family issues

  • The death of a close partner, friend, or family member

  • Leaving or starting a job

  • Trauma

  • Sexual issues

  • Questioning one’s sexuality

  • Chronic or acute illness

It’s important to note that the environmental factors leading to depression differ between men of different ages.

For young men, depression is often caused by the uncertainty arising from getting a first job, and leaving home for the first time, whether to attend college or simply live independently. (There’s also the possibility that your parents involuntarily kick you out of the house, which can certainly lead to distress.)

For middle-aged men, depression will often arise due to stress over family and jobs. Men will often have to balance their professional and personal needs, which can be difficult when both are demanding.

Although a midlife crisis can also come into play, contrary to popular belief, not every man will suffer from one.

For older men, depression often arises due to the imminence of retirement and the loss of physical ability. When many older men see their close friends or family die, it also hits them hard, as they realize that it could be them next.

Legacy also begins to play a factor, as all of us want to be remembered. A newly-developed dependence upon others and overall uncertainty about what comes in the final stages of life can be powerful factors influencing depression.

Men vs. Women

a man and woman side by side

Although it is clear that men can be affected by depression to the same extent as women, the two sexes also differ to a large extent in terms of onset, symptoms, and how they handle it.

Some of these differences include:

  • How it’s expressed. Men will often turn to drugs and alcohol to medicate themselves prior to the onset of symptoms. Women will tend to do the same only when symptoms become intense.
    Men are also more likely to engage in risky behavior— smoking, gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, etc.— when depressed. Depression in men is also more likely to manifest itself in the form of anger or irritability, as opposed to sadness.

  • Onset due to life events. It is believed that women are more likely to become depressed due to a stressful occurrence or life event, such as losing a job, the death of a close relative, or a difficult relationship. This phenomenon is thought to be largely due to hormonal differences.

  • Coexisting disorders. Women are much more likely than men to experience depression along with another disorder, whether that be anxiety, an eating disorder, or OCD.

  • Childbirth. It’s important to note that a common cause of depression in women is from childbirth, something that men will obviously never experience. About 13 percent of women experience postpartum depression within a month of delivery.

  • Seeking help. Partly due to the aforementioned stigma associated with depression, many men will not seek help for their symptoms of depression. This can eventually lead to there being a much more severe issue, such as suicidal ideations. Men, unfortunately, are much more likely to be successful when attempting suicide than women.

  • Effectiveness of antidepressants. Although there is not much established research on the differences between how men and women metabolize antidepressants, it is believed that women— who have a larger amount of body fat than men— will react differently.

  • Overthinking. Men are less likely than women to overthink and ruminate when they’re feeling depressed. Behaviors that they avoid that women can get caught in include harmful self-talk, outbursts of unprovoked crying, and self-blame. Instead, men generally distract themselves, which can help with experiencing less intense feelings.

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