Figures from the British Mental Health Foundation indicate that 1 and 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year, and that depression and anxiety are the most common mental disorders in Britain. Although these disorders affect men and women alike, women are more prone to seek depression treatment. The Irish Times today explored the issue of how men not only tend to hide depression from those around them, but in many instances, also hide it from themselves.
The main recognized types of depression include major depression, Dysthymia, Post-partum depression, Bi-polar Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). An episode of major depression, also known as clinical depression, is characterized by a lack of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable, sleep disturbances, and feelings of worthlessness and guilt for a period of over two months. However, according to a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, the differences in how men and women experience depression are remarkable.
US psychologist, Suzanne Phillips suggests that the way in which we have been socialized determines how we experience and deal with mental distress. Women therefore typically express symptoms of depression through sadness, sleeplessness and despondency as a result of having been socialized from an early age to verbalize emotions and asking for help. However, where women tend to seek depression treatment, studies suggest that men are more likely to keep symptoms hidden from their loved ones, including themselves. Asking for help and showing vulnerability are qualities rarely instilled in males, who are expected to show strength and endurance. Depression may therefore go undiagnosed in many male sufferers and present itself physically in the form of headaches and stomach pain, with an accompanying feeling of agitation and irritability. These symptoms can paint a misleading picture for loved ones, who might not pick up on the real reason for this behaviour.
Men are from Mars...and don't seek Depression treatment
These findings echo our experience at Life Works. We see a significantly higher number of women than men seeking depression treatment as a primary disorder. In our male clients depression often underlies an issue of substance misuse or addiction of other kinds. Our experience is that for male sufferers, depression is often dealt with by engaging in escapist behaviours such as over working, in a bid to avoid the anguish, guilt, and self-doubt associated with depression. So rather than seeking help, attempts at managing the distress are made by self-medicating the symptoms, albeit in unhelpful ways, such as sexually acting out, seeking refuge in internet activities, porn, or substance misuse.
A wise proverb goes; ‘what you resist persists’ and this appears to be especially true for mental health issues. Ignoring our psychological distress by failing to seek depression treatment can have devastating consequences. Up to 15% of those who are clinically depressed commit suicide. The vast majority of those that commit suicide are men. And while we know that depression affects both men and women, knowing that there are differences between the sexes in how depression is dealt with, can prove paramount in preventing people from suffering to the extent that suicide seems like the only solution to the mental distress. It is therefore important that some of the stigma attached to mental health issues be lessened, and that we create an open and honest environment that makes it possible to talk about this common condition.