Men and depression: How to spot the signs and address it

Clinical depression is a real illness with real symptoms. (Getty Images)
Clinical depression is a real illness with real symptoms – finding the right help is important. (Getty Images)

It's been an incredibly tough few years globally so rising rates of depression perhaps aren't surprising.

Even those who, on the surface, have a seemingly 'perfect' life aren't immune, but of course there's a difference between temporarily feeling a bit flat and suffering from clinical depression.

The more men talking about mental health the better, which has been helped in part by familiar faces opening up about their struggles. This includes Anton Ferdinand who opened up in August about the depression and insomnia he experienced while grieving the loss of his mother, encouraging others to talk about how they are feeling and prevent worse-case scenario outcomes.

World Snooker Champion Mark Selby also took to Twitter in February to explain that he was seeking professional help for depression, while the next day Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios admitted feeling so low that he had not only self-harmed but had also considered taking his own life.

“I was having suicidal thoughts and was literally struggling to get out of bed, let alone play in front of millions,” he said on Instagram.

Read more: Robbie Williams says life in Take That impacted mental health of several bandmates

England's Mark Selby wrote about his depression online. (Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)
Mark Selby has sought help for his mental health. (Getty Images)

From Eminem to Jim Carrey, Stephen Fry to Jon Hamm, there is no shortage of stars who have openly struggled with depression and while their elevated status might ensure they have easy access to the very best professional help, it’s not always so easy for the average Joe.

What can make things harder is that often, while many are trying to change this, men are still less likely than women to talk about how they feel, perhaps for fear of seeming 'weak', as Simon Brittz, counselling psychologist at Roodlane Medical, part of HCA Healthcare UK, explains.

“While women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, male depression often goes undiagnosed due to a failure to recognise, or reluctance to acknowledge, the symptoms,” he says.

Read more: I was a drug, alcohol and gambling addict – I lost everything, now I'm a bestselling author

Young man at home with depression. (Getty Images)
Men shouldn't have to feel like they need to keep any signs of depression to themselves – support is out there. (Getty Images)

Depression causes

Depression can arise from any number of sources. From grief to redundancy, to the breakdown of relationships, it can be sparked by life events or it can even run in the family.

It affects men of all ages and while its prevalence is high in those in their 20s and 30s, it’s increasingly common among men in their 40s and 50s.

“In my experience, depression is now highly prevalent in the 50-60 age range too,” says Brittz.

Men are far more likely than women to become dependent on alcohol and take drugs regularly, according to the Mental Health Foundation, which can often be forms of 'self-medication' for those struggling with mental health issues.

Men also report lower levels of life satisfaction than women, according to the government's national wellbeing survey.

If you’re concerned that you might be experiencing depression, it’s useful to ask yourself just how long you have been feeling the way you do. If it’s just a day or two then it’s probably just a temporary change in your mood but if it lasts weeks or months or even years then it's important to explore your symptoms so you can get the right support.

Read more: Talking mental health: What to say when someone's struggling, according to experts

Watch: How can I improve my mental health?

Depression symptoms

Physically, you may have noticed a change in your weight, disturbed sleep patterns or excessive tiredness and a low sex drive while psychologically, as well as your persistent low mood, you might be finding it difficult to enjoy anything, experience a lack of motivation as well as feelings of guilt, despondency and, in some cases, even thoughts of suicide.

A recent Samaritans Suicide Statistics report revealed that men in the UK are three times more likely to die by suicide than women, with those aged between 45 and 49 nearly four times that of women of the same age, so it's vital to seek help early on.

You might also notice cognitive issues emerging too. Perhaps your performance at work is suffering or you consciously begin to avoid social events.

You may also start making poor decisions. “Men suffering from depression also tend to engage in more self-destructive behaviours, like drug and alcohol abuse, or risky behaviour like reckless driving,” adds Brittz.

Depression treatments

Often, GPs will prescribe antidepressants to treat clinical depression and while there is no one-size-fits-all treatment, these can be useful in helping those experiencing moderate to severe depression.

The most common are serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Fluoxetine (under the brand name ‘Prozac’), Citalopram and Sertraline and they work by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which helps to improve your mood.

But they’re not an instant fix. Typically, it might take between two weeks and a month for the benefits of SSRIs to really kick in and you might well be taking them for anything between six and nine months before being carefully weaned off them with the help of a medical professional.

More moderate cases of depression, meanwhile, might be treated with talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), both proven to help improve the way you feel.

Doctor prescribes anti-depressants to man with depression. (Getty Images)
There is no shame in taking medication for depression if it's the right thing for you. (Getty Images)

Interestingly, men are less likely to access psychological therapies than women, according to the Mental Health Foundation – only 36% of referrals to NHS talking therapies are for men.

“From my experience working with men suffering from depression, I recommend finding a therapist who is direct and goal-oriented,” says Brittz.

“Setting out clear, realistic goals can help people manage their negative feelings and work to change those behaviour patterns associated with depression.” Remember that many therapists will offer free initial consultations, which can be a great opportunity to get a feel for whether their approach might work for you, or there are free organisations like the Samaritans who are always there ready to listen.

Read more: Duchess of Cambridge's brother on former depression: 'Some of us are just surviving'

Man speaking to therapist. (Getty Images)
Talking therapy is a great option for helping with depression and mental illness. (Getty Images)

Exercise, too, can be one of the most effective ways of managing depression. In fact, Brittz insists on it. “My non-negotiable for everyone I treat – men and women – is encouraging physical activity,” he says. “Regular exercise is a wonderful tool to boost your mood and ease the symptoms of depression. It is important to find an activity you enjoy, whether that's running a 5km, joining a five-a-side team or starting kickboxing classes – this will help you stay motivated to exercise on a regular basis.”

Whichever treatment you pursue, there’s no denying that fighting depression is challenging – even with the help of a professional – but tackling it on your own is much, much harder, as Kyrgios explained.

“I know that day-to-day life can seem extremely exhausting, impossible at times. I understand that you feel if you open up it may make you feel weak, or scared,” he said. “I’m telling you right now, it’s OK, you are not alone.”

Brittz wholeheartedly agrees. “I would really encourage men who feel that they might be depressed to reach out and speak to their GP or to contact the NHS,” he advises. “The worse depression becomes, the harder it can be to conquer.”

Read more: The most common mental health conditions - and where to get help

But with the right treatment and support, you can get your life back on track and find happiness again.

For support, you can contact Mind's 'infoline' on 0300 123 3393 (open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday except for bank holidays) or Samaritan's helpline on 116 123 (any time, day or night).

You can also search for free psychological therapies service (IAPT) on the NHS website.

Two friends jogging up the trails in the forest to get fit.
Exercise can help manage depression and struggles with mental health. (Getty Images)