By Christine Moutier, MD
Chief Medical Officer, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
We all know that men experience many things differently than women – but did you know that depression is often one of them? Men can experience depression differently – and may not recognize that their symptoms are stemming from a mental health condition. Depression has a complex profile of symptoms—the illness comes on insidiously in many ways, affecting mood, focus, even the body. Depression in men can manifest as back pain, fatigue, or frequent stomach aches. Men are more likely to report irritability, stress or substance abuse than sadness. In fact, it’s possible to be depressed without feeling sad. Instead, depression can manifest through physical symptoms – like sleeping too much or too little, frequently feeling tired, loss of interest in sex or actual sexual dysfunction, and consistently poor appetite. Some men move or speak slower than usual, while others feel restless or agitated. Instead of consulting a primary care physician or mental health professional to investigate these symptoms, some men still escape through work or substance use, or even more dangerously, look to suicide as a way to escape the pain.
In a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, 24% of men reported that they thought they have had depression, and yet we know that far fewer seek help. That’s a gap between illness and seeking help that we need to close, because untreated depression can lapse into a chronic disease. We wouldn’t ignore other physical health conditions, and depression is too serious of an illness to leave untreated.
The good news is the vast majority of men who seek treatment find it helpful – 72% found prescription medication helpful, and 85% were helped by in-person psychotherapy. We also know that men are getting smarter about mental health, especially young men. In the survey, men 18-34 identified seeking treatment for mental health conditions as a sign of strength far more than older men—by as much as 19%. That difference in perspective could signal a future shift toward more informed attitudes about mental health. Because with depression, it’s not about how tough you are. Depression is a serious illness that affects even the most resilient men, and it can have a major impact on your relationships, your career, and your physical health. The sooner you seek treatment for it, the less damage it can do.
Editor’s note: The Mental Health and Suicide Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of ADAA, AFSP, and NAASP between August 10-12, 2015 among 2,020 adults ages 18+. Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, income, and education where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of U.S. adults. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Poll panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.
Dr. Christine Moutier is the Chief Medical Officer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the American Journal of Psychiatry, Academic Medicine, and many other scholarly publications