Managing Feelings — 03 December 2011
How to help your man with his depression

Though men are less likely to develop depression than women, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about six million American men suffer from depression every year. These males are less likely than women to admit that they have a depressive disorder and are even less inclined to seek help. Women can be instrumental in identifying men’s depression and helping them receive treatment.

It is harder to assess depression in men because the symptoms may be somewhat different than the common ones. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM- IV), lists the classical symptoms of depression as: Having depressed mood, Experiencing reduced interest or pleasure in activities, Weight changes, Excessive sleep or insomnia, Being physically agitated or lethargic, Battling fatigue, Feeling worthless or excessively guilty, Being unable to think or concentrate and Being plagued by recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

These common symptoms are often experienced differently in men. Males experience: Irritability, Loss of interest in work, hobbies or sex, Struggles with sleep changes, Various physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders or chronic pain, Need for alcohol or substances to alleviate their depression, Atypically abusive, controlling or violent or Become aggressive and careless risk takers.

Untreated depression can result in personal, family and financial problems, even suicide. According to NIMH, “Four times as many men as women die by suicide in the United States, which may result from a higher prevalence of untreated depression. Yet eight out of ten cases of depression respond to treatment.”

Since depressed men do not identify mood change as a primary concern and since men are frequently determined to “tough out” their symptoms, their depression often alludes them and their partners. It may even be difficult for a physician to consider a mood disorder diagnosis when the complaints are primarily physical in nature.

Women, who are more attuned to emotional fluctuations, may be best suited to identify their partner’s changes as possible symptoms of a male-style depression. Women also usually know that depression is treatable and can alleviate their partner’s misery if he would only seek treatment.

How to discuss your observations, if you suspect that your male partner is depressed:

  • Kindly ask your man if he is noticing any changes in his body, attitudes or behaviors. (Avoid mentioning emotions.)
  • State in a concerned/loving tone, “It appears to me that you do not enjoy your job as much as you used to.” Or, “I notice that you sleep more fitfully, have more physical pain, or seem less satisfied with your life, is this correct?”
  • Express concern about his well being, even if he denies any changes. Say, “I am concerned about your headaches, pain, sleeplessness. Please consult your doctor to regain your energetic self.”
  • Ask to accompany him to the appointment. If he refuses, call the M.D. and report your concerns.
  • Help your man identify his depression and encourage him to seek treatment for your mutual wellbeing.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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