How Men Deal with Depression Differently to Women
The Male Experience of Depression
Depression doesn’t discriminate based on gender. It affects both men and women. Having said that, it seems women are more likely to suffer from a mental health condition, although some experts believe this is due to the fact that women disclose their issues more easily than men do. This is because men grow up with an idea of masculinity that stops them from expressing their feelings in the way that women tend to feel comfortable doing. Men feel that they will be emasculated if they show any vulnerability.
However, even if a lot of men resist opening up about their emotional pain, it can still manifest in some form or another. In fact, the signs and symptoms of depression can differ between men and women. It’s important to be aware of these differences so that you can spot whether you – or anyone that you’re close to – is going through a painful experience that deserves attention.
Of course, these differences can’t be universalized. Not all men repress their feelings, nor do all women speak up about their mental health. They are just differences that tend to be noticeable between the sexes. And they reflect the way that gender roles and norms have evolved over time.
Instead of crying, many men will deal with their emotional pain in ways they feel is more acceptable and masculine. Here are some possible signs of male depression (although, it’s worth being in mind that these examples could indicate another mental health issue, which is why diagnosis and proper treatment is crucial):
Rather than fully experience and authentically express the emotional pain going on in their lives, many men will find ways to escape it. One common form of escapist behavior is spending more time at work. This could relate to the fact that primacy of work is one of the 11 masculine norms identified by psychologists. So overworking may be a way that men with depression attempt to reassert their masculinity. Focusing on your work can help distract you from your depression. But, if you work so much that you avoid confronting your depression – or neglect other areas of your life – then it can make matters a lot worse.
Alcohol or drug abuse
Alcohol and drug abuse is often a sign of an underlying mental health issue. It is an attempt to numb, mask, hide or avoid emotional pain. When men are going through difficult periods in their life, rather than disclose their struggle to someone or seek help, they will reach for the bottle or start using drugs. The problem, though, is that if you can only feel relaxed, at peace and pain-free by drinking or using drugs, then you can easily develop an addiction. Which, in turn, can exacerbate the depression.
Controlling, abusive or violent behavior
When many men feel their life is out of control, they will look for ways to add a sense of control back into their lives. In a relationship, this can mean they become controlling of their partner. Men may also cope with their depression in the form of abusive or violent behavior because this is seen as more manly than crying, hugging or having an open and honest conversation. It’s worth highlighting that violence is another masculine norm.
Irritability, aggression or anger
One of the only acceptable emotions that many men feel they can express is anger. Sadness, despair or low self-esteem might not be seen as very ‘strong’, whereas anger and aggression is. So, if you feel that you’re angry a lot of the time, or know a man who is, this could be a sign of depression. Anger and irritability are common symptoms of depression, but they seem to occur more often in men than in women who suffer from the condition.
High-risk behavior is a common sign of depression. However, since risk-taking is a masculine norm, this helps to explain why men – more often than women – engage in risky behavior when they’re depressed. Such behavior can include self-harm, reckless driving, fighting, unsafe sex, gambling, smoking, heavy drinking and drug abuse, and other forms of reckless and dangerous behavior.
Unfortunately, the way that men handle their emotional pain differently to women sometimes means that other people get hurt. Aggressive, violent, and controlling behavior can be directed at loved ones, putting a serious strain on – and sometimes even ruining – those relationships.
In order for men with depression to protect themselves and those that they care about, it’s vital that they connect with their pain in an honest and compassionate way, and seek help when it is necessary.
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I'm a freelance writer who is interested in mindfulness, mental health and the evolving concept of masculinity.