Is depression different for men?

As Michael Stipe from REM sang: “Everybody Hurts (sometimes),” but the symptoms of depression are often very different in men, and harder to spot. Recent guidance from the National Institutes of Health might help you, or a loved one, understand what’s going on – and find resolution. 

Men’s depression symptoms often manifest as anger or aggression, rather than sadness. Family members, or the men themselves, might not see that what’s behind the rage is a profound sense of loss. If left unchecked, the situation can get worse.

The National Institutes of Health differentiates between the regular “blues” which all of us get from time to time, and the clinical mood disorder of true depression which impairs the ability to function or handle daily life. Doctors estimate that a prolonged bout of feeling this way, of two weeks or more, is symptomatic of a clinical disorder. 

Here are some of the signs the NIH suggests looking out for: 

  • Men with depression may feel very tired and lose interest in work, family or hobbies. 
  • They may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping than women who have depression. 
  • Sometimes mental health symptoms appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches or digestive issues can be signs of a mental health problem. Many men are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms.
  • Some men may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their emotional symptoms. Also, while women with depression are more likely to attempt suicide, men are more likely to die by suicide because they tend to use more lethal methods.

With the right treatment – usually a combination of talk therapy, exercise, a healthy eating regimen and, sometimes, medication, the NIH notes most men can work through the depression and come out the other side. 

If you, or someone you love, exhibits anything from the list above, don’t ignore the signs. Get help. We’re in this together. Even the future King of England has opened up about his mental health vulnerabilities – so you can, too. 

The health benefits of observing and creating art

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most beloved, extraordinary artists of all time. It is also well known he suffered from mental illness. He created some of his most famous and widely recognizable paintings while convalescing at an asylum, into which he voluntarily admitted himself. He often wrote to his brother of the calm, focused feelings he experienced when painting.

As noted in Vincent’s letters, creative expression is a powerful tool for well-being.  

The nonprofit group Resources to Recover defines art therapy as the application of art to treat mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, dementia, and PTSD. It can be used in conjunction with traditional mental health therapy to manage behaviors and reduce stress.

A pilot study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association demonstrated preliminary evidence that just 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent. Nearly 75% of the study participants had lower levels of salivary cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after the art making session.

All arts and crafts hobbies seem to have the power to positively affect the brain in a fashion similar to meditation. An online survey conducted with members of a virtual knitting community about  the benefits of knitting on their personal and social well-being published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.

Observing visual art can also reduce stress and anxiety for patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices. A study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being concluded, “Art contributes to creating an environment and atmosphere where patients can feel safe, socialize, maintain a connection to the world outside the hospital and support their identity.”

Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the works of others or create your own, take advantage of healing power of art on the mind and body.