5 signs of depression in men

Julie Cook 22 November 2021

They can be notorious for hiding it. But if you know the signs of male depression you might be able to help someone…

Traditionally, men have not been encouraged to talk about their feelings. Up until relatively modern times, men have been told to “man up” if they were feeling low or to “get over it”. Yet, according to studies, depression in men is very real.

Three times as many men as women die by suicide, men aged 40-49 have the highest suicide rates in the UK and men are less likely to accept therapy than women—with men only making up 36 per cent of referrals in the NHS for talking therapies.

But why is this? What are the symptoms? Can you spot the warning signs of depression in your husband, partner, father or friend?

He’s drinking more

Men are twice as likely to binge-drink than women and, according to a study done by researchers from Columbia and Yale Universities, men get a greater dopamine release from alcohol than women. Men with depression are often more likely to drink more than they usually do but according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, self harm, depression and suicide are much more common in people with alcohol problems, so it becomes a vicious circle.

Men sometimes drink to relieve anxiety or depression but any dopamine high will be short-lived and the cycle starts again, leading to more depression. The charity Drinkaware says that drinking heavily and regularly is associated with depression and that stopping or reducing drinking can help make men feel brighter.

He’s risk-taking more

While studies found that depressed women might often revert to withdrawing and seeking less pleasure in life, one study by researchers published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2013 found that depressed males reported a higher degree of risk-taking than usual. This risk-taking can involve dangerous activities such as driving fast, driving under the influence of alcohol, sexual promiscuity, gambling or getting into fights.

One theory is that some depressed men feel they have “less to lose” and are more prone to risk-taking behaviours as their self-esteem diminishes. Other studies talk of men needing the “high” from risky behaviours if they are feeling low. So, if someone you know is taking sudden risks, it may be a sign of depression.

Loss of libido

Studies have found a link between self-esteem, confidence and levels of happiness in men and sexual performance. Men who are depressed often report sexual dysfunction, which can become a vicious circle as they feel a greater sense of despair as their sex life diminishes.

Atomik Research polled 2000 men and found that 50 per cent of all men questioned felt stressed at least once a week and 60 per cent of those men who felt stressed had erectile difficulties. Again, a vicious cycle can ensue with men feeling guilty or depressed because they cannot keep an erection or please their partner, and the increase in feelings of despair leading to further sexual dysfunction.

He’s withdrawing from family or social events

Dr Jay Watts, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist at CALM—the campaign against living miserably—says: “Relational avoidance is very much a sign of depression. It can also be a risk factor for the emergence of later depression in someone who is otherwise feeling fine. Why? Well, we know male friendships often fall to the wayside after around the age of 30, and that women then often take over as social lubricant of the man’s social network.

Should that relationship falter, for example, because of a divorce, men can find themselves socially isolated which is a big factor in depression risk. This pattern of male friendships is beginning to change—but slowly.

He’s becoming more angry or aggressive

Depressed women tend to internalise depression. Men punch walls. It’s not that simple, of course, but as Dr Jay Watts says: “A lot of things happen in men’s early lives which encourage them to externalise, or act out their feelings; women, in contrast, are encouraged to internalise difficult feelings and either discuss them or mask them from outside. If a man hates himself, he’s more likely to drink a lot, get into fights, and punch walls in frustration, while women are more likely to enact it on their bodies.”

Dr Watts adds: “Both men and women feel angry and aggressive when they are depressed; but the different accenting of internalisation and externalisation subtly biases men to enact their aggression on other people and things, while women perform it more privately, on the body or sense-of-self.”

If you’re struggling, talk to CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or through their webchat. Their trained helpline staff are available from 5pm to midnight every day to provide practical support and advice. No matter who you are or what you're going through, it’s free, anonymous and confidential

You can learn more about depression on our help pages 

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