Fathers, Sons, Brothers and Lovers – The Tragedy of Male Depression and Suicide

Historically depression has been viewed as a women’s health issue. We now know however that males are equally susceptible to depression, but that the presentation of depression in males may look quite different to that of females. This means that depression in males has been under-diagnosed and under-treated. As well, men are more likely than women not to follow through on treatment for depression when they are diagnosed.

While woman often describe depressive symptoms in terms of tiredness, sadness and unhappiness, men have been taught to hide such feelings. Due to the social expectation that males be stoical, men often try to ‘tough it out’, maintain control and not ‘give in’ to feelings. Crying and expressing sadness is at odds with cultural ideals of masculinity. These cultural and societal norms limit men’s ability to express their emotional pain and psychological distress. It is important to recognise not all depressed men display these symptoms and behaviours. For some men their experience of depression will be similar to that of women.

So how might depression in men be expressed? Some symptoms and behaviours include:

  • Angry outbursts, physical and verbal abuse
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Abuse of alcohol and other substances
  • Risk taking behaviours such as driving recklessly, fighting and having affairs
  • Focusing on work to the neglect of family and friends
  • Withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed

Unrecognised, untreated depression has serious consequences for the sufferer, his family and the wider community. Seventy-five to 80 percent of all suicides are men, and adolescent boys suicide at four to six times the rate of adolescent girls. Relationship breakdown and job loss are increasingly common experiences in the modern world. These psychosocial factors place males at an elevated risk of suicide. Men also tend to use more lethal means such as hanging and firearms than those employed by women.

Getting help

  • Talk to the person about what is happening for them
  • Be kind and compassionate, avoid judgements or criticism
  • Encourage the man to seek help
    • From his GP
    • From his local mental health service
    • By accessing web sites such as Beyond Blue (www.beyondblue.org.au ) and the Black Dog Institute (www.blackdoginstitute.org.au )
    • By phoning Lifeline (on 13 11 14)
    • Men’s support groups
    • If the man is suicidal do not leave him alone. Call for help from emergency services (on triple 000).