Is a Man in Your Life Depressed?
Last reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School on January 14, 2013
By Alice Y. Chang, M.D.
From time to time, friends, family and women in my practice bring me their concerns about the men in their lives partners, spouses, relatives or friends. Often they are concerned about mood and behavioral changes, which can signal depression.
What many men and women don't appreciate is that men can display symptoms of depression in different ways than women. In fact, it is often difficult for men to get diagnosed and treated for depression because of their different symptoms and a general reluctance to seek health care compared with women. Rates of depression are commonly reported to be twice as high in women than in men. But it is now becoming better understood that men are probably going undiagnosed because both they and the health care professionals they see do not recognize their symptoms as depression.
How Are Men's Symptoms Different?
People around a depressed man might be the first to notice a change in his behavior. A man who usually does not seem stressed develops a low tolerance for stress, is irritable and easily angered. A man who is otherwise not aggressive becomes more hostile. He may start to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, or may become a workaholic or exercise excessively. If a man already abuses alcohol, research has shown that he is much more likely to develop depression.
Depressed men may show the usual symptoms of depression, including:
Men also may exhibit symptoms rarely seen in women, including:
Strategies for Getting Help
I find it hard to get the men in my life to see a doctor for basic health care, so I can imagine how much harder it would be to get them to seek psychiatric help. A first step might be for you to show the man you're concerned about the list of symptoms above. Ask him if he identifies with any of the symptoms. Talk about why you are concerned about his change in behavior and how he must be feeling.
Here are some strategies that have worked for me, as a physician, for my patients and my friends:
Don't be surprised if a man refuses to seek help the first few times you talk things over. Be persistent, and continue to show your concern and support. Make sure that he feels safe in confiding in you, and that he can continue to talk to you. Let him know that if he ever feels like he might hurt himself or someone else he should tell you or someone else. By offering your support in a calm, nonthreatening way, he will know who can help him find a way to seek help when he is ready.
Alice Y. Chang, M.D. is a former instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is currently associated with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Her clinical interests and experience are in the fields of primary care, women's health, hospital-based medicine and patient education.