Depression is a common but serious illness that can affect men and women differently. Men tend to focus on the physical symptoms, such as feeling tired or losing weight, rather than emotional symptoms like feeling 'low'. Early detection is important, as untreated depression can lead to suicide. People with depression can do many things to help themselves, and treatment is widely available and effective.
Depression is common, affecting over one million Australian adults each year. On average, one in five women and one in eight men will experience depression in their adult lifetime.
Depression is a common but serious illness
Depression is more than just a low mood – it’s a serious illness that has an impact on both physical and mental health. Depression affects how people feel about themselves.
People suffering from depression may lose interest in work, hobbies and doing things they normally enjoy. They may lack energy, have difficulty sleeping or sleep more than usual. Some people feel irritable, and some find it hard to concentrate. Depression makes it more difficult to manage from day to day.
Recognising depression in men
While women are more likely to experience depression, men are less likely to talk about experiencing depression and are at greater risk of their depression going unrecognised and untreated. This is thought to relate to several factors.
Men are more likely than women to recognise and describe the physical symptoms of depression (such as feeling tired or losing weight), but may acknowledge feeling irritable or angry, rather than saying they feel low or depressed.
Generally, men tend to put off getting help for health problems, as they may think they are supposed to be tough, self-reliant, manage pain and take charge of situations. This attitude can make it hard for men to acknowledge any health problems, let alone a mental health problem.
It is also very common for men in particular, to manage their symptoms by using alcohol and other drugs, which mask the symptoms of depression.
If depression is not detected, it cannot be treated and may become severe and disabling. Depression is a known high risk factor for suicide. In Australia, men account for 80 per cent of deaths by suicide.
It’s very important that more people learn to recognise depression in men. Early detection and effective treatment may help to keep depression from becoming severe.
The beyondblue depression checklist can help you to establish whether you (or a person you’re concerned about) have depression.
Types of depression
Different types of depression often have slightly different symptoms and may require different treatments.
The five main types of depression are:
- Major depression – a depressed mood that lasts for at least two weeks. This may also be referred to as clinical depression or unipolar depression
- Psychotic depression – a depressed mood that includes symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis involves hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), paranoia (feeling everyone is against you) and delusions (false beliefs that are not shared by others)
- Dysthymia – a less severe depressed mood that lasts for years
- Mixed depression and anxiety – a combination of symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depressive illness) – involves periods of feeling depressed (low) and manic (high).
Symptoms of depression
A person may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, he or she has felt sad, down or miserable most of the time, or has lost interest or pleasure in most of his or her usual activities, and has also experienced several of the signs and symptoms across at least three of the categories below.
It’s important to note that everyone experiences some of these symptoms from time to time – it may not necessarily mean a person is depressed. Equally, not every person who is experiencing depression will have all of these symptoms.
Men with depression may:
- Have stopped going out
- Not be getting things done at work or school
- Be withdrawing from close family and friends
- Be relying on alcohol and sedatives
- Have stopped their usual enjoyable activities
- Be unable to concentrate.
Men with depression may have thoughts such as:
- ‘I’m a failure’
- ‘It’s my fault’
- ‘Nothing good ever happens to me’
- ‘I’m worthless’
- ‘Life’s not worth living’
- ‘People would be better off without me.’
Men with depression may feel:
Men with depression may experience:
- Feeling sick and ‘run down’
- Headaches and muscle pains
- Churning gut
- Sleep problems
- Loss or change of appetite
- Significant weight loss or gain.
Causes of depression
Factors that can contribute to depression in men include:
- Using drugs and alcohol
- Physical health problems
- Relationship problems
- Employment problems
- Social isolation
- Significant change in living arrangements (for example, separation or divorce)
- A partner’s pregnancy and the birth of a baby.
Treatment for depression
The encouraging news is that a range of treatments, health professionals and services are available to help with depression, and people with depression can do many things to help themselves. Early detection and treatment may help to keep depression from becoming severe.
Different types of depression require different approaches. Mild symptoms may be relieved with lifestyle changes (such as regular physical exercise) and self-help (such as online e-therapies) alone. For moderate to more severe depression, psychological and medical treatments are likely to be required. Often, a combination of treatments is most useful.
Seek help early
It’s important to seek help early, as the sooner a person gets treatment, the greater the chance of a faster recovery. Untreated depression can have many negative effects on a person’s life, including serious relationship and family problems, difficulty finding and holding down a job, and drug and alcohol problems. Depression can also adversely affect the body’s systems, including brain function, the sleep-wake cycle, stress response system, immune system and gastrointestinal system.
See your doctor
Your doctor is the best starting point for professional help, or with whom to discuss your concerns in the first instance. It’s important to give your doctor or mental health professional the full picture. It’s a good idea to write down feelings or questions before your visit, so you are more likely to tell the doctor the important things.
Your doctor can:
- Make a diagnosis
- Check for any physical health problem or medication that may be contributing to depression or anxiety
- Discuss available treatments
- Work with you to draw up a mental healthcare plan so he or she can get a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment
- Provide brief counselling or in some cases talking therapy
- Prescribe medication
- Refer you to a mental health specialist such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Treatment for depression
Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) help people with depression to change negative patterns of thinking or sort out relationship difficulties. Different types of psychological treatments include cognitive behaviour therapy, interpersonal therapy and family therapy.
Antidepressant medication is often prescribed, alongside psychological treatments, when a person experiences a moderate to severe episode of depression. There are many different types of antidepressant medication and your doctor will need to find the medication and dose that is most effective for you.
Keep in mind that antidepressants take time before they start to help. Stopping medication should only be done gradually, on your doctor’s recommendation and under supervision.
It’s very important to find the right mental health professional. If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor, or you suspect your mental health isn’t being managed effectively, choose another doctor or get a second opinion.
Sometimes it can take a while before you feel well again. It’s important to stick with treatment plans and let your doctor know when things aren’t working, or if you are experiencing side effects. This is important for your long-term recovery.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- A psychiatrist
- A psychologist
- beyondblue Info Line Tel. 1300 22 4636
- SuicideLine Tel. 1300 651 251
- Lifeline Tel. 13 11 14
- Mensline Australia Tel. 1300 78 99 78
- Suicide Callback Service Tel. 1300 659 467
Things to remember
- Depression in men is common and treatable.
- Depression is an illness, not a weakness, and men shouldn’t feel ashamed to seek help.
- It’s important to seek help early – the sooner the better.
- With the right treatment, most people recover from depression.
You might also be interested in:
- Depression and ageing.
- Depression and exercise.
- Men's health.
- Suicide and mental illness.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
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Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: December 2011
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