Men’s health: depression
Most of us feel unhappy or fed up every now and then. But the feeling doesn’t usually last long, and we usually become our normal selves again within a day or two. Depression, on the other hand, is when you feel low for much longer. It’s also very common. According to the Mental Health Foundation, depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide (i).
What gender has the highest rate of depression?
The metal health charity Mind says one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind every year in England, with three in 100 people affected by depression in any given week (ii). Statistics also show more women (22.5 per cent) have symptoms of anxiety or depression than men (16.8 per cent) (iii).
But in reality the prevalence of depression may well be more equal between the sexes. That’s could be because many men aren’t included in official figures because they’re reluctant to get support for mental health issues or even to talk about having mental health difficulties.
Despite the fact that things are changing, society still sees the typical man as being strong and silent with a stiff upper lip. This striking image is so ingrained in our culture, many men simply may not realise that symptoms and feelings they’re experiencing could be a sign of depression or another mental health problem. As a result, some don’t get the help they need when they need it.
How does depression affect men differently to women?
While many of the symptoms of depression tend to be similar in men and women (see below, How to spot the signs), some of the things they do to cope with depression can be different. For instance, a survey carried out for Mind (iii) suggests almost twice as many men as women drink alcohol to cope with feeling low.
Getting out and about and maintaining social networks can be a positive step towards managing depression, but when alcohol is added into the mix it can lead to yet more problems (alcohol dependence, for instance). Indeed, according to Mind, far more men than women are likely to be alcohol dependent and access treatments or services for drug problems.
The same survey also discovered men are more reticent to talk about a mental health problem than women. They’re half as likely as women to talk to their friends about their mental wellbeing, and only 31 per cent of men would talk to their family about feeling low compared with 47 per cent of women (iii). The survey also found many men prefer to watch television, exercise or drink when they’re having mental health difficulties rather than talk about how they’re feeling.
Also just 23 per cent of men would see their GP if they felt low for more than two weeks compared with 33 per cent of women, while 45 per cent of men think they can fight off feeling down compared with 26 per cent of women (iii).
What are the 7 signs and symptoms of depression?
It’s not always easy to tell if you’re experiencing depression, since we all feel a bit down from time to time – it’s a normal part of being human, after all. But if you feel down all or most of the time, it’s a possible indication you may be depressed.
Some of the other common symptoms to look out for that are similar in men and women include:
Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
Feelings of sadness and hopelessness – sometimes these can be worse at specific times of the day
Anger and irritability
Having no interest in activities you used to enjoy and even in life in general
Inability to concentrate and make decisions
Wanting to withdraw from friends and family
Feeling tired all the time
Inability to sleep normally – you may either not be able to sleep much or you may want to sleep much more and struggle to get out of bed
Behaving out of character
Loss of appetite or an increased appetite leading to losing/gaining weight
Low libido and other sexual problems
General aches and pains that have no obvious cause
Feeling overwhelmed when doing simple everyday tasks
Having suicidal thoughts
Other symptoms of depression can be more common in men than women, including:
There are lots of different things that can cause these symptoms, whether you’re a man or a woman. These include stress, illness, having a family history of depression or other mental health problems, having to cope with serious illness and lifestyle changes such as redundancy, bereavement, divorce or separation.
But whatever the cause, if your symptoms linger it’s a good idea to see your GP, even if you think you’re strong enough to cope with it all yourself.
How can I increase my mood and energy?
If you’re feeling depressed there are several things you can do to help speed your recovery and get back to enjoying life more. First of all it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice and take any medicines they’ve prescribed for you, even when you start feeling better (check with your GP before you stop taking antidepressants, since your depression could come back if you stop taking them too soon).
A few tips:
If you’re feeling low you may not have much of an appetite. But eating healthily can be good for your mood. Try to have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day to make sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs, and keep your energy levels up by having some carbohydrate-based foods with every meal (go for foods that release their energy slowly, such as whole grains). Having a couple of portions of oily fish each week could also help keep your brain healthy.
Exercise may be the last thing on your mind if you’re feeling depressed. However according to the NHS research suggests exercise may be as effective as antidepressants at reducing the symptoms of depression (v). This could be because physical activity makes your body release chemicals called endorphins (often called your feel-good hormones). Plus when you’re exercising it can help take your mind off any negative thoughts you may be having.
Try to be moderately active for at least 150 minutes every week. If this seems like too much of a task, remember that any exercise is better than none, and even a quick 10-minute walk can be helpful and put you in a better mood.
Avoid alcohol and smoking
These may be the first things you reach for when you’re feeling down, but while they may seem to make you feel better for a few minutes or hours, in the long run they can make things worse.
Try to make sure you stay within the official guidelines for drinking alcohol in the UK medical experts believe it’s safest not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week on a regular basis. This amount of alcohol helps keep the health risks that can come with drinking at a low level.
Meanwhile if you’re depressed it may not seem like the best time to quit smoking, but remember it could help make you feel better, plus there’s help and support available that could help make stopping easier. For instance, you can buy nicotine replacement therapy products such as patches, gum and lozenges to help with nicotine withdrawal symptoms. To find out more about the help you can get, call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044.
Check your sleep pattern
Sleep difficulties are common symptoms of depression – some people find they can’t sleep as well as they need to when they’re depressed, while others feel they want to sleep much more than usual. Some of the things you can do to make sure you’re getting the right amount of sleep include:
Stick to a regular sleep/wake cycle, where you go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time every day (even when you don’t feel like it).
Try to expose yourself to some bright light soon after getting out of bed in the morning, and if you struggle to sleep well at night try not to give in to the temptation of having an afternoon nap.
Avoid drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, especially later in the afternoon and in the evening.
Be physically active at least once a day.
Be kind to yourself
Every day try to make time to do something you enjoy, whether it’s taking part in a hobby or similar activity or just watching your favourite TV programme or reading a good book. Ask yourself if you need to take a break from your normal routine for a few days too. And if you can’t manage to take a few days off work, try getting away for just a few hours, as even a short break could do you good.
Natural supplements to support mental health
There are several natural supplements that could give you some extra support when your mood is low:
St John’s wort: This is a herb that’s often used for the relief of slightly low mood and mild anxiety, based on traditional use only. There’s some evidence it may be more effective than a placebo at treating mild to moderate depression (vi), with studies suggesting it’s as effective as some popular prescription antidepressants (vii). St John’s wort can interact with some other medicines, so always consult your GP before taking it.
5-Hydroxytryptophan – or 5-HTP for short – is a natural amino acid, and studies suggest it may be as effective as conventional antidepressants (viii). There’s also some evidence that 5-HTP may help with anxiety disorders (ix).
The omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are an area of interest for researchers looking for ways to treat mental health problems, including depression. A meta-analysis of 26 studies, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, has found an overall beneficial effect of omega-3s on depression symptoms (x).
You can get omega-3 fatty acids by eating more oily fish such as salmon, trout, herring, mackerel and sardines, or by taking fish oil supplements. Vegetarian and vegan omega-3 supplements are also more widely available these days. These supplements source their active ingredients from plant organisms called microalgae rather than fish.
High-strength multivitamin and mineral A multivitamin can be helpful too, especially if you find you’re not eating as much or as well as you should. One study also suggests multivitamins could help boost your mood and improve your feelings of day-to-day wellbeing (xi). Look out for a supplement with good amounts of B vitamins, zinc and vitamin D.
Living with depression can be difficult for anyone but we hope this guide helps to make living with it a little easier. There’s also more information in our article on depression signs and symptoms. Meanwhile why not visit our pages on men’s health issues and mental health and wellbeing?
Men and mental health: get it off your chest. Mind. 2009
Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/treatment/
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Kasper S. et al., Superior efficacy of St Johns wort extract WS® 5570 compared to placebo in patients with major depression: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-center trial. BMC Med. 2006 Jun 23. Available online: https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-4-14
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Liao Y. et al., Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Translational Psychiatry. 2019;190(9). Available online: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-019-0515-5#
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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.