Helping a Loved One: Recognizing Signs of Depression in Men

June 23, 2020


If your husband, son, or other male loved one is struggling and seems to be unreachable, you’re not alone. In fact, the month of June is designated as Men’s Mental Health Month to raise awareness around the unique challenges men face — and the statistics are troubling. Suicide among males is four times higher than among females. Male deaths represent 79% of all suicides in the United States, and 49% of men feel more depressed than they admit. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. One in 10 men suffer from rage.

In spite of these alarming facts, men with mental health concerns are less likely to have received proper treatment, largely due to perceived social pressures to be strong and in control. Knowing the causes and signs of depression in men and what you can do is important when someone you care about is suffering.

Causes of Depression

Emotional ups and downs are normal, but depression is sustained and impacts every part of functioning. None of us is immune to depression, and biological, psychological, and social factors can make us vulnerable to it. Common emotional triggers are:

  • Adverse childhood events, such as abuse
  • Family or personal history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Poor coping skills
  • Difficulty forming meaningful social connections and subsequent loneliness
  • Lack of purpose and isolation associated with aging

Depression Symptoms in Men

Signs of depression in men can look different, making them difficult to understand and diagnose. For instance, while depression in women may predictably appear as low mood or fatigue, depression in men can manifest as aggression, manipulation, impulsive risk-taking, avoidance, and substance use.

Male deaths represent 79% of all suicides in the United States, and 49% of men feel more depressed than they admit. ” 

Depression symptoms in men can also exhibit as health issues. Treatment-resistant headaches, back pain, sleep disruptions, digestive problems, or sexual dysfunction may be rooted in depression. Without proper diagnosis, these ailments can persist for years, impacting quality of life and work and leaving the emotional issues unaddressed.

Those untreated stressors can lead to behaviors that temporarily block unwanted emotions, but create bigger problems. For instance, drinking too much every day after work with the guys numbs the pain in the moment, but may lead to addiction.  Reacting with anger or irritability to mask despondency not only deepens despondency, but damages relationships. Working obsessively without balance may appear heroic, but is isolating, avoidance behavior.

How to Help a Loved One Seek Treatment

Because men tend to be less adept at recognizing signs of depression, honesty tempered with compassion is important. However, offering understanding and empathy to someone whose behavior is straining relationships is understandably challenging.

Here are a few suggestions for reaching out:

  • Engage with him when you can create a judgment-free zone and focus on offering support to get help.
  • Discuss changes in his personality and behaviors without criticism or anger.
  • Ask him to complete the “20 Point Head Inspection Mental Health Checklist,” at Man Therapy, a website designed specifically for men using humor to ease the stigma.
  • Suggest making an appointment with your family doctor rather than a mental health professional, which may feel less intimidating.
  • Inquire whether he has had thoughts of self-harm and know that doing so will not plant the idea, but can bring relief from a heavy burden. If he answers affirmatively, seek professional help immediately.
  • Set the expectation that recovery takes time and patience, but is worth the effort.

Understand that, while you can create a nurturing environment and offer support along the way, you are not responsible for someone else’s depression or other mental health issue, nor can you make them want to get better.

How to Care for Yourself When a Loved One Is Suffering

If you’ve taken a trip on a commercial airline, you’ll remember that you were instructed by the flight crew to secure your own oxygen mask before helping someone else with their mask. Simply put, you are better able to assist someone struggling with depression or any mental health issue when you are physically and mentally strong. Develop resiliency to recover from setbacks. Watch for signs of stress in yourself, like headaches or insomnia. Allow yourself a wide range of emotions — even the negative ones – to fully process them in a healthy way. Maximize the positive things in your life and celebrate all victories, large and small.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers community support groups for those whose loved one suffers from a mental health disorder. Sharing with others facing similar challenges helps you realize you are not alone. If your emotional burden becomes too heavy, get professional help from a licensed therapist.

Because of the stigma associated with mental health concerns, many men who need help are reluctant to reach out. If your loved one is suffering from depression or any other mental health concern, help is available and early intervention leads to better outcomes.