Just as heart problems are thought of as a male illness with a specific set of symptoms (and many women with heart disease often go undiagnosed because their symptoms are different), so it is with men and depression. Many men with depression go undiagnosed because we often think of depression in terms of a women’s illness and would expect to see the same symptom pattern in men. Women, as we all know, pay close attention to their feelings and as a result are diagnosed with depressions based on their feelings. Men, on the other hand, tend to act out their depression. They tend to be irritable, moody, short tempered, and often overreact to daily annoyances. Depressed men also may withdraw, retreating into their caves, and give the “silent treatment”. This is not to say that men do not feel depressed. Some forms of depression look the same, regardless of gender, but reactive and stress induced depression can manifest itself differently.
Since our culture typically expects males to be strong emotionally, it’s not surprising that when depression does strike males it is more likely to be seen in behavior. Feelings are often covered up by distracting behaviors or numbed by some preoccupation. Some of the most common behavioral masks are anger, rage, pent-up resentment, workaholism, avoidance of intimacy, and sexual compulsions.
* Anger, rage and pent-up resentment
The number of men and women with depression, most of which is stress related, is increasing. This may be noted in men as anger, such as road rage or work rage. Many workplace rages are precipitated by a major loss, such as being fired. Loss, be it from death of a loved one, loss of a job, or a child leaving home, is a common cause of depression. If one is able to successfully treat such a depression, the rage and anger subsides.
Work can become a major distraction when it totally engrosses us. Here we have both a cause and effect of depression. Demanding, over-work is the most significant cause of stress in our society. This type of continuous stress depletes the serotonin levels in the brain, causing depression. As a man becomes more depressed, he may bury himself in more work as a way of numbing his feelings.
*Avoidance of Intimacy
The last thing a depressed man wants to do is to connect in an intimate way. (Sex is not necessarily an expression of intimacy, so sexual desire may remain.) A man who is depressed may become cold and indifferent to his wife, family, and friends. For some however, depression diminishes the sex drive. To make matters worse, the man may start looking for reasons for his withdrawal. This can result in blaming others and can lead to marital discord.
* Sexual Compulsions
Except in severe depression, most men do not lose their desire for a sexual outlet. Some may become obsessed with sex and act out compulsively because sex provides some pleasurable relief from depression, at least temporally.
If any of these behaviors are affecting you or some one you care about, it would be wise to explore the possibility of depression being at the root of the problem. Depression can have far reaching effects on a man’s physical and emotional well-being, as well as on his family and friends.
Studies show that Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a successful treatment for depression. Men learn how to identify negative thinking patterns, challenge them, and replace them with more adaptive healthier thinking. Once the thoughts are positive, the behaviors become positive and healthy as well.