Depression affects one in eight men in their adult lifetime (compared to one in five women). Distressingly, men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide, and three times more likely to develop a substance abuse problem. As Associate Professor Michael Baigent, Board Director for Beyond Blue, explains, depression is more than just a down day. It’s a “constant change from your normal emotions and behaviour, not just a fleeting thought,” he says. With financial pressures on the rise, job insecurity and an increase in divorce rates, alarmingly, these are some of the common triggers that initiate depression. “Of the males who have committed suicide, a high percentage of them have undergone a separation within the previous 12 months,” Baigent says.
What is Depression
“Depression is a psychiatric disorder where your mood is different to what it normally is, and is so severe that it affects your social and occupational functionality,” Baigent explains. “You may have little enjoyment in life, a loss of appetite and weight loss, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy. You may have suicidal thoughts and or inability to concentrate and function at work,” he says. And although medication, alcohol or amphetamines can contribute to feelings of depression, if you’re not on or taking anything, and still feeling blue, then it’s time to see your doctor.
Speak to your doctor
According to Dr Ronald McCoy, Spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, a male patient may visit a doctor for help with depression, though they make it difficult for the doctor to diagnose. “[Men] mask it by presenting to the GP with another health complaint,” he says. “With men, it can take a while before they’ll start talking about how they’re feeling, so it’s important to create a safe environment. The GP may ask about their feelings in general, how they’re sleeping, sex life and check for noticeable weight loss or gain,” he says.
To diagnose depression, the doctor will perform an assessment of biological and psychological tests. “Your GP knows you medically and personally, so they’re aware of what’s ‘normal’ for you,” says Baigent. “Some feelings of depression may be caused by anaemia (lack of iron), a thyroid or other physical problems. If your GP feels that you do display the symptoms of depression, then they’ll most likely refer you to a psychologist or therapist,” he says.
What can you do?
The first step is to seek help. “If you don’t feel comfortable talking to somebody else yet, then do some research: online or books are good places to start,” says Baigent. “Speak to your GP or a mental health worker. Remember that feeling depressed is not a personality flaw. It can happen to anybody, at any time, and there are ways to treat it,” he says.
The biggest problem in dealing with male depression isn’t how to prevent or cure it, but how to get men to admit they’re feeling down. “Men are less likely to see themselves as depressed and to seek treatment,” says Baigent.
Is it all doom and gloom?
Adam Garoni, CEO and co-founder of Movember, the charity that raises money and awareness for prostate cancer and male depression, says men are becoming more open about their health and emotions. “For many men who have taken part [in Movember] it’s been the first time they’ve told their mates that they’ve suffered from, or are suffering from, depression,” Garoni says. Last year, during the month of Movember, 40 per cent of men who participated in the fundraiser consulted their GP regarding their health. Around 40 per cent also recommended a friend to visit their doctor. “It’s about looking after your mates as well as yourself, and removing the stigma of depression. If these guys aren’t having that conversation with their mates or Dad, then it spirals out of control,” he says.
How to spot the signs
“If you notice any behavioural changes that last for more than two weeks in family members, friends or yourself, then it is worth asking if depression is the cause,” says Baigent.
Signs of depression include:
- Uncharacteristic moodiness, irritability or frustration
- Spending less time with friends and family
- Loss of interest in food, sex, exercise or other pleasurable activities
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Staying home from work or school without reason
- Increased physical health complaints
- Recklessness or taking unnecessary risks
For more information visit www.beyondblue.org.au
Read our fact sheet on Male depression.
By Charmaine Yabsley