Depression In Men: Everyone needs help sometimes
By Kathy Summers, publisher of the tourism website SavvyCities.com
If the holiday season has you singing the blues, you’re not alone. But if the feeling persists for more than a couple weeks, what seems like a down mood may be a sign of depression. The symptoms are not always obvious, and real depression is not likely to go away by itself.
Although women are diagnosed with depression more often than men, men are less likely to seek treatment. “There’s a cultural myth that men don’t get depressed,” says Will Courtenay, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., a psychotherapist in Berkeley, California, and author of Dying To Be Men. “What that communicates to men is that they shouldn’t get depressed.”
The classic signs of depression are those women are more likely to exhibit: feelings of sadness, fatigue, and a sense of hopelessness [see sidebar for complete list]. The problem can be trickier to identify in men, even for doctors, says Courtenay. A depressed man may show classic symptoms, but he’s just as likely to act out, become aggressive, work too much or too little, have affairs, withdraw, or drink too much – all signs that can be misunderstood. That’s why it’s important for a man to seek a mental health professional who specializes in men’s depression.
Trying to drink away depression can be especially problematic, says Gary J. Kennedy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of geriatric psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York, and author of Geriatric Mental Health Care. Not only does drinking make the depression worse, the depression is often missed or misdiagnosed as alcohol abuse.
“If you look at the number of alcohol abuse disorders among men, it probably accounts for why men don’t meet the criteria for depression,” says Kennedy. Also, even small amounts of alcohol can make treatments less effective, according to a University Pennsylvania study that looked at older veterans.
For anyone who might be depressed, the first step is to recognize there’s a problem. The second step is to get help from a licensed mental health professional. The recommended treatment for depression usually includes a combination of antidepressant medication and cognitive therapy. The risks of not getting help can be serious, from wasting valuable time to suicide. Unfortunately, even people who seek help for depression may not get the treatment they need.
Only half of Americans diagnosed with depression are getting treatment, and only one in five are getting treatment based on the recommended guidelines, according to new research from the Institute of Gerontology and Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.
The good news is that getting the right treatment can have real and lasting benefits, says Donald Hall, M.D., a counseling psychiatrist based in Washington D.C., and author of Breaking Through Depression. Cutting edge science over the past five years shows that the brain can actually repair cells damaged by depression,” says Hall.
Although heredity accounts for many cases of depression, stress caused by military deployments, going through a divorce, or adjusting to retirement can release stress hormones that damage the brain cells, explains Hall. “The research shows that treatment with antidepressants and/or psychotherapy help the brain repair that damage so you feel better.”
Social support is also a must for anyone dealing with depression, around the holidays or anytime, says Kennedy. “It’s not the number of people who support you or whether you give as much as you get, it’s the perceived quality of support,” he says. You may really just have the holiday blues temporarily. But if the problem persists and interferes with your work life or relationships for more than a couple of weeks, it may be time to ask for help.
Signs and Symptom
The classic signs of depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, may include:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
- Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
If you’re depressed enough to feel suicidal, or know someone who is, call your local suicide hotline immediately: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).