Men Start Talking About Depression

The World Health Organization says depression is the fourth largest cause of disability worldwide and predicts it will be the second largest by 2020. If you are struggling with depression or know of someone who is, this blog covers the causes, symptoms and therapy options to help you talk about it.

Former English cricket captain Geoffrey Boycott (OBE) once said “Until you’ve had depression I don’t think you’re qualified to talk about it”.

Depression is a serious illness but men often see it as a sign of ‘weakness’ to admit that they need help.  Around 121 million around the world currently suffer from depression. The World Health Organization says depression is the fourth largest cause of disability worldwide and predicts it will be the second largest by 2020[i].

The National Institute of Mental Health estimate 6 million men a year in America suffer from depression[ii]

Ministry of Health figures in New Zealand show in 2012/2013 53.3% of 154, 752 people seen by mental health and addiction services were male[iii]

Too many men with depression not getting suitable treatment

How many men with depression are not getting help and how do we get men to accept that they are indeed “qualified to talk about it”?

In New Zealand a common phrase “She’ll be right” is often used dismissively by men to express that everything’s going to be okay even when they’re not really sure and don’t really know how to deal with the situation.

Men tend to put off going to the doctor when they’re feeling ill so understandably, confronting a mental health issue like depression is hard.  Unfortunately, if we don’t speak up we run the risk of other areas of our health and relationships deteriorating and this can lead to very serious consequences, the most fatal of these being suicide.

Suicide rates higher among men

Interesting data from Statistics New Zealand relating to suicide deaths shows nearly three times as many males committed suicide[iv].

Statistics New Zealand says suicide rates are a sign of the mental health and social well-being of the population.  These statistics show that men are trying to cope alone with the burden of depression and when it gets too much they are sadly becoming a statistic.

Men aren’t opening up

Recent research conducted by the University of Michigan showed that men were more susceptible to depression over the long term because of an unwillingness to express a need to get help.  The research conducted between 1995 and 2011 indicated differences between how men and women dealt with stress over the long-term.

Men take a more traditional view of the male role which restricts an expression of emotions and encourages a focus on power, success, independence and competition.  This makes men more vulnerable to the physical and psychological effects of higher stress levels because they think they should just handle it.

Dr Shervin Assari who conducted the study said it was important to reduce stigma about mental health care organizations and increase communication about emotion among men[v].

Psychologist Aaron Rochlen, PhD, of the University of Texas, says that research shows that the men who need mental health services most are least interested in getting help[vi].

Causes of depression

Scientists and mental health professionals acknowledge that a combination of factors can be responsible for depression.

Scientists believe one cause is an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain and this may be due to a lack of Serotonin, Dopamine and Norepinephrine, neurotransmitters which play an important role in controlling mood and emotions such as feelings of happiness[vii].

However, this is only part of the problem.  Research done by the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney in Australia showed that people with a smaller hippocampus are also at greater risk of depression.  The hippocampus is a structure in the brain responsible for emotion[viii].

Genetics can also play a part in the likelihood of a person’s depression and this risk can be higher when both parents have been more susceptible to depression or if there is a family history[ix].

Many other social factors such as trauma or stress in relationships, finances and physical health can also contribute to depression.

Most of the time, depression in men can be due to a variety of these causes.

8 common symptoms of depression in men

1. Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or emptiness

2. Irritability and anger (sometimes abusive)

3. Extreme tiredness and irregular sleep patterns (too much or little)

4. Loss of interest in work, family and once interesting activities including sex

5. Inability to concentrate on tasks, make decisions and meet responsibilities

6. Overeating or lack of appetite

7. Abuse of drugs or alcohol

8. Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts[x].            

With many possible causes there are also many options for treatment.

Treatment options:

1.‘Talk Therapy’ or Psychotherapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)involves a therapist giving exercises that someone can practice in everyday life.  CBT focuses on present thoughts rather than past history and can help men to modify unhealthy thought and behaviour patterns which make depressive symptoms worse. CBT encourages men to participate in activities they enjoyed before the depression occurred[xi]

Interpersonal therapydeals with a man’s interpersonal relationships, giving him techniques to improve the way he communicates and relates to others in social relationships.  The techniques identify how to identify and deal with emotions in a healthy way[xiii].

These treatment options can be of enormous benefit to help men meet their needs in their community, family and social relationships.

2. Social relationships

A study of 5,000 Americans over a 10 year period by University of Michigan indicated that the quality of a person’s relationships with their spouse, family and friends had a significant impact on the risk of depression no matter how often the social interactions took place.

Lead author, Psychiatrist Alan Teo, M.D., M.S., said a lack of support from loved ones in relationships predicted development of depression. The study showed if people could improve the quality of their personal relationships they may be able to prevent the effects of depression in their lives[xiv]

Building quality social relationships can be another effective way for men to express emotions and limit negative thoughts and actions.

3. Nutrition

Poor nutrition can compound depressive symptoms so it is important to try to minimize the intake of sugar-laden foods and junk foods as much as possible.

Look for foods with nutrients, vitamins and minerals which are helpful to support low moods such as B vitamins, Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids[xv]. For those struggling to consume their recommended amounts of vitamins, minerals or nutrients, consider seeking out supplements that support your brain and mental health.

I would encourage men who think they have depression to talk to someone, no matter how mild you think the symptoms might be.  Start taking things seriously and seek professional help.  This doesn’t make you weak; it can only take you towards the treatment you need to make you stronger.

Many of the options for treatment I’ve talked about may help including ‘Talk therapy’, quality social relationships and connections and nutrition.   Every man needs to find what works best for him and there are always professional agencies and resources available.

Remember, you are “qualified to talk about it”.

Here’s a list of agencies and resources that can be contacted and used privately and confidentially if you need help:

New Zealand

Depression helpline:  24/7 Freephone 0800 111 757 – a trained counsellor who can find the right treatment for you

Australia – Support Service Freephone 1300 22 46 36

Men’s Line Australia – Freephone 1300 78 99 78

USA – Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – Toll free number 1-800-826-3632 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) - Men and Depression - National Institute of Mental Health Depression page


UK -  Helpline 01 708 765200