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Sharp Health News

3 ways depression is different for men

Dec. 6, 2016

Men and mental health

Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26 percent of the U.S. adult population. On a global level, it’s estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second-leading cause of disability.

While depression affects both men and women, the way each gender experiences depression can be very different.

Dr. Nancy Burlak, EdD, LMFT, manager of outpatient services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, notes that when it comes to depression, men and women typically differ in ways many people would expect.

“Women are usually more in touch with their emotions and more open to discussing problems they are having,” she says. “Men can be more closed off and reluctant to admit they’re experiencing emotional distress.”

Below, Dr. Burlak outlines the other major differences in how men experience depression:

  1. Men exhibit symptoms differently.
    Because of their reluctance to acknowledge their emotional issues, depression in men can manifest as irritability, anger and aggressive behavior, rather than the hallmark sadness one might expect to accompany this diagnosis. Additionally, men have a harder time sleeping, resulting in difficulty concentrating and loss of attention to detail. Men also have a greater tendency to manifest symptoms as physical health problems, such as aches, pains and digestive issues.

    “Men are much more likely to present to their doctor with medical issues they are experiencing, rather than emotional. Because health problems are a physical and more tangible ailment, they feel more comfortable reaching out to address these issues.”

  2. Men need a different approach to treatment.
    The stigma of mental illness is much more pervasive in men than women. Culturally, men are often raised to be strong and stoic, and not show emotion. Because of this, in order to best treat males with depression, doctors often can’t drive straight to the emotional issues. Men respond better to treatment when it’s initiated as an attempt to address the symptoms they are experiencing, rather than the underlying cause.

    “Addressing the concerning behavior or symptoms is often what will help us start to break down the real issues,” says Dr. Burlak. “Men have a hard time talking about emotions and are sometimes unable to recognize that what they are feeling is actually depression.”

  3. Men cope differently.
    Since men experience depression differently than women, it’s natural that their coping mechanisms would differ as well. According to Dr. Burlak, men are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs as a coping method. Additionally, men are much less likely to reach out for help, and if their depression gets severe enough, are more likely to die by suicide.

    “While women categorically have more suicide attempts, they tend to use nonviolent means, such as medication. Men are more likely to choose lethal methods, like firearms,” says Dr. Burlak. “That’s why it’s so important to know that depression is treatable, and to get help for yourself or your loved one.”

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Burlak about signs of and treatment for depression for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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