- While depression is common among men, they don’t report it nor do they seek mental health treatment as often as women.
- This is due in part to the “manliness” they feel they must uphold, as well as their inability to explain or even understand how they’re feeling.
- The symptoms and diagnostic criteria for depression do not change for men, but they are often communicated or observed differently.
- Rather than expressing sadness, he might express feeling angry; instead of admitting he’s on the verge of tears, he might say he’s feeling irritable.
- Counseling is a powerful tool for not only helping men recognize their emotions and manage their depression, but understand why it’s more difficult for them to discuss these feelings.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), statistics show that women experience depression almost twice as often as men. That said, several studies and surveys have also shown that men are less likely to seek help for things like depression. This likely plays a role in the former statistic and highlights another problem in mental health that needs addressing: the stigma that surrounds men, their emotions and run-ins with mental illness.
A Lack of Emotional Literacy
Depression is common among men, but they don’t report it as often as women—which means they’re also less likely to seek mental health treatment for their depression. As it turns out, oftentimes, men are either trying to keep up the tough guy act or they just don’t know how to explain what they’re feeling.
“Due to social stigma, men report depression or seek mental health treatment far less often than women,” Mackenzi Kingdon, licensed mental health counselor, begins. “Beyond this, men are not usually exposed to emotional vocabulary in the same way women are. At a young age, women are taught to share a range of emotions. Boys are often taught the opposite: ‘Big boys don’t cry!’ ‘Man up!’”
Kingdon goes on to explain that this lack of emotional literacy doesn’t just hinder their ability to explain how they’re feeling, but to understand and identify their feelings themselves. “When you don’t have the language to explain something to someone else, it is just as hard to explain it to yourself,” she says.
Understanding the Male Language
The same depressive symptoms and diagnostic criteria are listed for all individuals by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). These symptoms and criteria include:
- Intense feelings of despair
- Loss of interest or pleasure
- Sleep disruption
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Suicidal thoughts or ideation
That said, while men will experience the same symptoms of depression that women do, they often put a different spin on these symptoms. They describe their experiences in a way that makes them feel more secure in talking about their feelings, as explained by Psychotherapist Laura Dabney: “Men often put a positive or masculine spin on their depression because they think being overwhelmed with emotions is girly or needing help is weak. So, instead of saying they are sad, they will say enraged or angry; instead of hopeless or helpless, they say loss of interest; instead of crying, they say they’ve been irritable or snappy. They will also say they need sex as opposed to closeness, intimacy, or a partner who understands them.”
Changing the Narrative
Counseling can help men to explore their emotions and deal with depression. Additionally, it can help them to understand why it might be harder for them to recognize and discuss how they’re feeling. Kingdon says that she does her best to assist male clients in realizing that everyone does not, in fact, have everything figured out. And that it’s okay to need help:
“While working with men who are experiencing depression and simultaneously trying to avoid those feelings, I always remind them that they were not given the gift of emotional literacy at a young age. They are now faced with figuring it out themselves in a day and age where everyone looks like they have it figured out. To an extent, this is new territory and of course it feels scary and strange. Realizing that they are pioneering a new feeling in themselves can help boost confidence and serve as a reminder to be patient.”
Fortunately, more people are seeking and receiving mental health care today than ever before. The men that are making great strides in therapy, in terms of understanding themselves and the feelings they present are helping to change the narrative as, “working through depression and recognizing when it is happening can help teach future generations of men to acknowledge depression and seek help as well,” says Kingdon.