Depression among men is more common than you might realize. About one in 20 men has an episode each year, but it’s not always easy to recognize. Many guys deny they have this illness, both to themselves and to friends and family. Furthermore, says clinical psychologist David Wexler, PhD, author of Is He Depressed or What? What to Do When the Man You Love Is Irritable, Moody, and Withdrawn, about half of men with the disease don’t display classic symptoms, such as lack of motivation or diminished zest for life. Instead, they often hurl themselves at, work, exercise, sex, alcohol, and high-risk activities like gambling.
"This hyperactive behavior is counterintuitive," Wexler says, "but it’s a particularly male way of coping with feelings of emptiness and unhappiness." It also allows men to mask their disease so they don’t have to talk about it or admit they have a problem. "They’re out mountain biking, having more sex, working harder. They’re running away from their feelings. But if you peel away the layers, you’ll find the same profound unhappiness that all depressed people experience."
Wexler says this kind of overzealous behavior often comes packaged with irritability, anger, and aggression. It’s an insidious combo that can corrode a marriage and strain family life.
In fact, "guys who are depressed can become very difficult to live with," Wexler says. "We feel compassion for and want to help loved ones who are sad. But when someone is being difficult, it can be hard to see past that."
Depression, however, is a highly treatable disease, and Wexler says once a man starts therapy, he often responds to it quickly. "The most typical story is that as soon as he starts unburdening himself, he feels relief," Wexler says.
Help for Depressed Men
Wexler offers these pointers to men who think they're depressed:
Face it.Wound-up, stressed-out, short-fused, worn-down -- no matter what you call how you feel, depression is a real illness that requires real treatment.
Get help. Acknowledging and seeking treatment can save your marriage -- and possibly your life -- so take responsibility and seek someone to talk to.
Talk it out. If you hurt, you can be certain your spouse knows it. Open up about what’s going on and be willing to work through it together.