Almost twice as many women as men experience depression. Women are more likely to seek professional help than men. In fact, 2 out of 3 counseling clients are female.

Men just aren’t as good at seeking out help.

Men don’t, however, get a pass when it comes to depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) more than 6 million men – in the US alone – struggle with depression each year.

Depression in men often looks different from depression in women. Anger is often the predominant emotion. Guys are more likely to complain of feeling tired and losing interest in work, family, or hobbies. They are also more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression.

It’s not always that men don’t want to seek help but that they may not recognize the need for treatment.

So men withdraw. They’re angry and they don’t know why. But most men have enough self awareness to know they shouldn’t take their anger out on people they’re not really angry at.

My practice often slows down a bit during the summer months. Because men are tired and not sleeping well they convince themselves they just need a vacation. But when the vacation is over and the angry, irritable, depressed feelings haven’t gone away… that’s when men start to realize something else may be going on.

Depression can affect any man at any age. With the right treatment, most men with depression can get better and gain back their interest in work, family, and hobbies.

Men and Depression: What to Look for

Clinical depression is characterized by the presence of 5 or more of these depressive symptoms:

  • Depressed mood most of the day. In children and adolescents, (and – I would add – in many men) this may present as an irritable or cranky, rather than sad mood

  • Markedly diminished pleasure in activities such as hobbies, sports, or other things the person used to enjoy doing

  • Significant change in weight or appetite

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) nearly every day

  • Problems with constant restlessness or the opposite, a slowing of one’s movements

  • Fatigue, tiredness, or loss of energy nearly every day

  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day

  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day

  • Recurrent thoughts of death

Note that most of these symptoms have to do with how the brain functions, not with how one feels. Sleep, appetite, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, etc. are behaviors, not emotions. This is why medications are sometimes prescribed for severe depression.

Medications alone won’t fix the problem. The purpose of antidepressant medication is to return brain-functioning to normal so that the depressed person can think clearly and take advantage of counseling.

Men and Depression: It Isn’t Just a Choice

While happiness may be a choice, depression isn’t. At least not in the traditional way we think about choices. When I get up in the morning I can choose to wear a blue shirt with a brown sports coat. I can change my mind at any point in the day and easily wear a different shirt or blazer. Men who are depressed can choose to seek help. They can choose to turn to others (including turning to God). They can choose to live a healthier lifestyle. What depressed men can’t do is simply choose to be un-depressed the way I can choose to change my wardrobe.

Counseling will be important for men to overcome depression. But, there are some things a guy can do on his own that will help with depression:

  • Try to be active and exercise

  • Break up large tasks into small ones, set priorities, and do what you can as you can

  • Spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend

  • Put off making life changing decisions until you feel better. Discuss decisions with others who know you well

  • Avoid self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs