The Surprising Truth About Men and Depression

Fact: Women are diagnosed with depression at twice the rate that men are. But a surprising study of 5,692 people that was published this week in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry shows that men actually suffer from depression nearly as often as women do. So how have doctors and therapists been missing the signs?

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“The term ‘depression,’ conjures images of a sad, teary person who stays in bed all day, unable to eat or otherwise function — these traditional symptoms are what we’ve used to diagnose depression,” Lisa Martin, PhD, an assistant professor of women's and gender studies and health policy studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, told Yahoo Shine. “However, since men are socialized to toughen up and be stoic during hard times, when a man becomes depressed, we wouldn't necessarily know it.”

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Past research has identified distinct characteristics of male depression (aggression, anger, and other destructive behaviors, for example). So when Martin and her team analyzed depression symptoms common among men, they found that 26 percent of men and 22 percent of women met the criteria for depression. “This wasn’t surprising because depressed women don’t typically walk around throwing things or exhibiting other types of aggressive behavior,” said Martin. However, when she used a scale that included both traditional symptoms and those male-specific symptoms, the rates for depression were similar among men and women: 31 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

“The results are significant because now, clinicians can spot more symptoms in men struggling with this illness,” said Martin. So what signs should women look for that might indicate the men in their lives are depressed?

Hyperactivity: Having difficulty sitting still and focusing on one task, or being fidgety or jumpy.

Aggression: Overreacting to minor annoyances and experiencing sudden spells of anger and/or violence with his physical features mirroring panic attacks (sweaty, difficulty breathing, chest pain, a loss of control, and more).

Over-extension: Has he taken on an unrealistic workload? Is he voluntarily working late hours? He could be that he's trying to blunt his emotions by staying busy.

Risky behavior: Gambling, smoking, excessive drinking or any other type of risk-taking behavior.

“It’s important to note that not all men who exhibit these symptoms are depressed. After all, some of this is normal male behavior,” Martin explained. “However, if a man who has never behaved like this suddenly shifts his behavior, it’s worth exploring whether he could be depressed. He may not realize it himself or know how to seek help.” What’s more, there are plenty of depressed men who display traditional signs of depression. According to Martin, “The new data just helps us understand more symptoms of male depression."

But should you be concerned if your partner has always been a high-energy, risk-taking dude who works hard? “It’s tricky because he may also be experiencing chronic, undiagnosed depression," said Martin. "You may suggest that he visit a clinician or therapist."

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