Recently, we’ve been seeing quite a few stories in the news about men and depression, how depression affects men, and what causes depression in men.
There are certain aspects of our emotional make-up which are influenced by hormones. It’s important to understand that both men and women have emotions. They simply experience emotions differently. In many ways, culture influences how emotions are experienced by men and women. From a very early age, girls get taken care of if they cry. Boys are told that big boys don’t cry. Women are rarely told that they need to just suck it up. Men, on the other hand, are constantly told in one way or another to suck it up, man up, and get on with it. Women are expected to be emotional. Men are expected to be steady, strong and silent. Even in our modern days of new thought, these standards still seem to be in the background.
Testosterone is a powerful hormone. It is one factor that affects aggressive behaviour. The level of testosterone present in the body, especially during the teens and early twenties, can directly impact on such behaviours as violence, aggression, anger, and competitiveness. Testosterone causes men to be drawn to action films and video games. In turn, watching action films and playing action-based video games increases levels of testosterone, which in turn can result in increased levels of aggression and anger. High testosterone levels result in more powerful muscular build, and lower testosterone levels make muscles softer. Early on, studies had shown that men begin to lose muscle tone and hair as their levels of testosterone begin to reduce after having peaked around the age of 18. What is perhaps even more interesting is that people have long known that after a man marries, he tends to go a bit “soft”. He loses muscle tone a bit, gets a bit of a soft tummy. I’ve heard people over the years attribute this to getting home cooking, being spoiled by his wife, etc. In fact, when men are in a positive relationship with a woman, the testosterone level reduces almost immediately. When men become fathers, their testosterone level reduces. These things allow them to have more mellow and generous behaviours toward wife and children. They no longer need to compete for a woman’s attention, and the brain takes the cue, reducing the levels.
So, how does depression affect men? When men are in positive relationships, with a strong family, successful work environment, etc., their testosterone levels are calm. However, when they’re in a negative place, the testosterone level rises, and with it, the feelings of anger, aggression and competitiveness. They will experience irritability and lack of control over their temper. They can be verbally aggressive, and sometimes violent. They tend to be tired, and are no longer interested in things that they used to enjoy, similar to women when they’re depressed. However, because of the different way that men experience depression, many around them won’t even recognise that they are depressed. Most crucially, the men themselves won’t recognise that they’re depressed. Because men are discouraged from talking about their feelings, they’re less likely to admit that they need help or to get help. In terms of suicide, women will attempt it. Men will succeed in doing it, making men and depression a fatal mix.
There are many questions around what causes depression in men. Men are more likely to become depressed after losing a job than women are. Men who have lost a long-term partner are more susceptible to depression. Men can become depressed if they don’t feel that they’ve been as successful in life as they wanted to be due to the competitive spirit of testosterone. If you’re a man experiencing these things, talk to someone. Don’t ignore it. It does not go away until you get help, and there’s no shame in that.
Being depressed doesn’t mean that you’re weak. In fact, it takes more courage and strength to face depression and do something about it than it does to let your depression end in your death. Stand up to it and get your life back.