Depression traditionally has been considered a female disorder. But men can and do get depressed. The big difference is that men may be less likely to seek treatment for depression because they see mental illness as a sign of weakness.
Depression is not a sign of weakness, however. It is a disease with biochemical causes. More than 17 million Americans suffer from depression every year, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The APA estimates that at least one out of every 10 men will have depression during his lifetime.
The Stigma of Dealing with Depression in Men
Many of those men will never seek treatment for their depression. Men are less willing to admit depression, according to Teodoro Bottiglieri, Ph.D., a senior research scientist and associate professor at Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas, and the author of Stop Depression Now. “There is a stigma attached to having any psychiatric illness. It’s a point of vulnerability, like admitting you’re impotent in public,” he says.
Men, he said, are taught to just grin and bear it, get on with life and provide for their families. Dr. Norman Sussman, a psychiatrist at New York University Medical Center, agrees. “Men are less likely to seek treatment, in part because there’s a tendency for men to tough it out,” he says.
It’s important for men to realize that “depression is a medical disorder that affects one’s ability to feel and think in certain ways. It’s a form of reversible brain failure,” says Sussman. “It’s not an indication of their character.”
The problem with not coming forward is that depression tends to get worse, and affects all areas of a man’s life. Many men will self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, says Sussman. And, men—especially older men—have higher rates of suicide than women do.
Doctors may miss the signs of men’s depression. Sussman says it’s possible that there may be a bias tendency in diagnosing depression, with doctors looking for it more in women, in whom the disease is more prevalent. If they discuss them with their doctors at all, men tend to downplay their symptoms.