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Real Men, Real Depression! (Mental Health Matters)

Depression is a serious but treatable medical condition - a brain disease - that can strike anyone, including men. In America alone, over 6 million men have depression each year. Whether you're a company executive, a construction worker, a writer, a police officer, or a student, whether you are rich or poor, surrounded by loved ones or alone, you are not immune to depression. Some factors, however, such as family history, undue stress, the loss of a loved one or other serious illnesses can make you more vulnerable. If left untreated, depression can lead to personal, family and financial difficulties, and, in some cases, end in suicide. With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, however, most people recover.

The darkness disappears, hope for the future returns, energy and desire come back, and interest in life becomes stronger than ever Depression can strike anyone regardless of age, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or gender; however, large scale research studies have found that depression is about twice as common in women as in men. In the United States, researchers estimate that in any given one year period, depressive illnesses affect 12 percent of women (more than 12 million women) and nearly 7 percent of men (more than six million men).3 But important questions remain to be answered about the causes underlying this gender difference. We still do not know if depression is truly less common among men, or if men are just less likely than women to recognize, acknowledge, and seek help for depression. Types of Depression Just like other illnesses, such as heart disease, depression comes in different forms.

This booklet briefly describes three of the most common types of depressive disorders. However, within these types, there are variations in the number of symptoms, their severity, and persistence. Major depression (or major depressive disorder) is manifested by a combination of symptoms (see symptoms list below) that interferes with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat, and enjoy once pleasurable activities. A major depressive episode may occur only once; but more commonly, several episodes may occur in a lifetime. Chronic major depression may require a person to continue treatment indefinitely. A less severe type of depression, dysthymia (or dysthymic disorder), involves long lasting, chronic symptoms that do not seriously disable, but keep one from functioning well or feeling good. Many people with dysthymia also experience major depressive episodes at some time in their lives. Depression Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood. Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness.

Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyable, including sex. Decreased energy, fatigue; feeling “slowed down.” Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions. Trouble sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping. Changes in appetite and/or weight. Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts. Restlessness or irritability. Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment. Men and Depression Researchers estimate that at least six million men in the United States suffer from a depressive disorder every year. Research and clinical evidence reveal that while both women and men can develop the standard symptoms of depression, they often experience depression differently and may have different ways of coping with the symptoms.

Men may be more willing to acknowledge fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in work or hobbies, and sleep disturbances rather than feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and excessive guilt. Some researchers question whether the standard definition of depression and the diagnostic tests based upon it adequately capture the condition as it occurs in men. Men are more likely than women to report alcohol and drug abuse or dependence in their lifetime;14 however, there is debate among researchers as to whether substance use is a “symptom” of underlying depression in men or a co occurring condition that more commonly develops in men. Nevertheless, substance use can mask depression, making it harder to recognize depression as a separate illness that needs treatment. Instead of acknowledging their feelings, asking for help, or seeking appropriate treatment, men may turn to alcohol or drugs when they are depressed, or become frustrated, discouraged, angry, irritable, and, sometimes, violently abusive. Some men deal with depression by throwing themselves compulsively into their work, attempting to hide their depression from themselves, family, and friends. Other men may respond to depression by engaging in reckless behavior, taking risks, and putting themselves in harm’s way. More than four times as many men as women die by suicide in the United States, even though women make more suicide attempts during their lives. In addition to the fact that men attempt suicide using methods that are generally more lethal than those used by women, there may be other factors that protect women against suicide death. In light of research indicating that suicide is often associated with depression, the alarming suicide rate among men may reflect the fact that men are less likely to seek treatment for depression.

Many men with depression do not obtain adequate diagnosis and treatment that may be life saving. Depression in Older Men Men must cope with several kinds of stress as they age. If they have been the primary wage earners for their families and have identified heavily with their jobs, they may feel stress upon retirement­loss of an important role, loss of self esteem­that can lead to depression. Similarly, the loss of friends and family and the onset of other health problems can trigger depression. Depression is not a normal part of aging. Depression is an illness that can be effectively treated, thereby decreasing unnecessary suffering, improving the chances for recovery from other illnesses, and prolonging productive life. However, health care professionals may miss depressive symptoms in older patients. Older adults may be reluctant to discuss feelings of sadness or grief, or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. They may complain primarily of physical symptoms.


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