Mental Health Awareness Week: How to spot the signs of male depression and address it

Getting the right help for depression early on is vital. (Getty Images)
Getting the right help for depression early on is vital. (Getty Images)

From a global pandemic to the cost of living crisis, it's been an incredibly tough few years 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.

This week (15-21 May) marks Mental Health Awareness Week, which aims to shine a light on the importance of wellbeing, help tackle stigma, prevent people from suffering and improve the care that's out there.

Of course, the more people talking about mental health the better, particularly men who tend to be more reluctant to seek help. Three times as many men as women die by suicide, according to Mental Health Foundation.

Celebrities who have talked about their experience with depression

Paddy McGuinness, Mike Tindall, James Middleton. (Getty Images)
Paddy McGuinness, Mike Tindall and James Middleton have opened up about their mental health. (Getty Images)

Recently, Paddy McGuinness discussed how symptoms of his clinical depression were spotted by his ex-wife Christine.

The presenter, 49, said he "wasn't aware" that what he was experiencing – including losing his temper – were signs of the condition.

Mike Tindall also recently discussed his own mental health battles and experiences of baby loss, urging men to talk about their feelings in order to "normalise" it, while his royal relative James Middleton shared how his pet dog helped him to overcome depression.

Anton Ferdinand described the depression and insomnia he experienced while grieving the loss of his mother while World Snooker Champion Mark Selby used social media to explain that he was seeking professional help for depression. Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios admitted feeling so low that he had not only self-harmed but had also considered taking his own life.

Unfortunately, men are still less likely than women to talk about how they feel, perhaps for fear of seeming "weak".

“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,” Simon Brittz, counselling psychologist at Roodlane Medical, part of HCA Healthcare UK, explains.

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 symptoms

Psychological symptoms of clinical depression include, as per the NHS:

  • continuous low mood or sadness

  • feeling hopeless and helpless

  • having low self-esteem

  • feeling tearful

  • feeling guilt-ridden

  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others

  • having no motivation or interest in things

  • finding it difficult to make decisions

  • not getting any enjoyment out of life

  • feeling anxious or worried

  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

Physical symptoms of clinical depression include, as per the NHS:

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual

  • changes in appetite or weight

  • constipation

  • unexplained aches and pains

  • lack of energy

  • low sex drive (loss of libido)

  • changes to your menstrual cycle

  • disturbed sleep

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, then it's important to explore your symptoms so you can get the right support.

Depression causes

From grief or redundancy, to the breakdown of a relationship, depression 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.

Men are also 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.

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)

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.

This may also be combined with talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), both proven to help improve the way you feel.

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.

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.

“Regular exercise is a wonderful tool to boost your mood and ease the symptoms of depression," he says. "It's 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 harder.

“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,” Brittz advises. “The worse depression becomes, the harder it can be to conquer.”

Two friends jogging up the trails in the forest to get fit.
Exercise can be helpful in managing depression and improving mental health. (Getty Images)

Depression help and support

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.

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers a helpline on 0800 585858 and livechat is open from 5pm to midnight every day. 365 days a year