Signs A Man Is Depressed

Men aren’t immune to depression, and we can play a pivotal role in supporting their recovery

Though it doesn’t get talked about often, depression among men is quite common. Many men experience depression at some point in their lives – and successfully overcome it with the right supports and treatment.

Having the support of individuals who genuinely care about him is a crucial element in a man’s recovery process.

The support process begins with first being able to recognize that a person is suffering. This page provides an overview of the signs and symptoms of depression in men.

Challenges to Recognizing Symptoms of Depression in Men

Being able to recognize symptoms of depression in another person is not always straight-forward. For example, some men:

  • Have a hard time recognizing symptoms of depression in themselves (because of a lack of mental health knowledge or experience) and thus may not realize that what they’re feeling/experiencing is depression
  • Hide or mask symptoms to avoid ‘looking weak’ or ‘broken’ (because of societal expectations of a man to be tough, resilient, and stoic)
  • Turn to self-destructive behaviours, such a drinking or taking drugs, to numb or escape their pain, or to avoid feeling anything, and thereby obscuring depression as an underlying issue
  • Have difficulty identifying their feelings and expressing to others what they are going through
  • Experience symptoms that aren’t typically associated with depression – like physical pain and irritability

It can sometimes be challenging to know when a man we care about is just having a stressful week vs. dealing with a more serious issue like depression. While each of the signs and symptoms described below may not be a clear indicator of depression on its own, the more frequently we notice them and the longer they have been occurring, the more likely it is that he may be suffering from depression.

Typical Signs and Symptoms of Depression

These are the signs that are typically associated with depression.

Sadness/Hopelessness

  • He says he’s been ‘feeling down’, ‘feeling low’, or that he ‘feels like shit’.
  • He feels overwhelmed by sadness and may experience bouts of crying, seemingly “out of nowhere”.
  • He seems to have become overly pessimistic about things or about himself being able to feel better.

Lack of energy

  • He has less mental energy or doesn’t seem to be able to think as clearly as usual.
  • He becomes less physically active, cutting back or stopping his regular fitness routine or more simply just feeling “drained” and not able to muster enough energy to get through his regular day. 
  • He frequently cites ‘being tired’ as a reason to not do things.
  • He finds generally simple tasks like cleaning up, showering, walking the dog, etc., to be exhausting.

Decreased interest or pleasure

  • He loses interest in his hobbies/activities. For example, he suddenly stops following his favourite sport, or doesn’t seem to care when a new season of a favourite show comes out. 
  • He loses his sense of humour, either making less jokes or laughing less.
  • He seems to have lost his “mojo”, and doesn’t appear to really care about much of anything anymore.

Feeling bad about himself

  • He talks about himself as being a failure.
  • He often mentions letting other people down.
  • He frequently talks about not being good enough or inadequate.

Trouble concentrating

  • He seems to have difficulty keeping his focus on things, even with simple things like reading the news or watching TV.

Changes in appetite

  • He starts to gain or lose a significant amount of weight.
  • You notice a pattern where he eats (or doesn’t eat) in response to stressful situations or bad news.

Issues with sleep

  • He mentions ongoing difficulties with falling or staying asleep, and/or getting out of bed.
  • He seems tired throughout the day.

Any talk or behaviour related to suicide

  • He talks about wishing he wasn’t here, wanting to escape, or says something like “I don’t know what to do, I can’t handle this anymore.”
  • He makes jokes about suicide or not being here anymore. 
  • He starts putting his affairs in order.
  • He engages in more reckless activities that show a disregard for his safety.

More information on how to manage suicide risk (including signs and how to help).

Male-Specific Signs of Depression

Growing evidence suggests that for some men, depression may be experienced and exhibited more readily through externalizing symptoms (e.g., anger/irritability, substance misuse, emotion suppression, risk-taking) that fall outside current diagnostic criteria for depression (as described above), leading to an under-recognition of depression in men.[1]

Men’s expression of externalizing depression symptoms is thought to result from masculine socialization processes (i.e., the ways through which society teaches boys to be men) that emphasize autonomy, stoicism, and invulnerability. Because of perceived pressure to conform to these masculine ‘norms’, some men may be unable and/or unwilling to disclose or show typical depression symptoms (such as sadness) out of fear of being viewed as weak, inferior, or vulnerable.

Below are some common, yet often overlooked ways depression can show up men:

Anger, irritability, or aggression

  • He gets set off by things that wouldn’t normally warrant getting angry. This can take many forms, including:
    • Having a short temper
    • Being overly sensitive to criticism
    • Frequent road rage 
    • Verbally or physically lashing out at others
    • Getting mad at himself

Being “stressed out”

It’s easier for some guys to talk about feeling ‘stressed’, as it carries less stigma than saying they’re feeling down or depressed.

  • He may simply say he feels “stressed” or “numb” without further elaborating (not wanting to explain or perhaps not being able to)

Reckless behaviour

Depression can make people feel like their lives have no value. This can result in a diminished consideration of the impact of their actions on themselves and others.

  • He starts pursuing more dangerous sports or activities
  • He drives more recklessly or drinks and drives
  • He gambles compulsively or more than he can afford to lose
  • He engages in unsafe sex (because he doesn’t care about possible consequences; pregnancy or STIs)
  • He seems to take more risks or just seems to not care about the consequences of his actions

Ongoing physical pain or symptoms

The mind and body are closely connected, so when a guy’s feeling depressed, this feeling can sometimes manifest physically more so than psychologically, especially for men who don’t or seemingly can’t communicate their feelings to other.

  • He has aches and pains without any apparent cause (backaches or frequent headaches)
  • He has frequent heartburn or digestive problems
  • Various treatments for his pains/aches don’t seem to provide much, if any, help.

Because aches, pains, and other physical symptoms can mean many different things, it’s important for a man to consult a family doctor to determine possible causes and treatment options.

Sexual difficulties

If a man mentions having sexual difficulties or if you are a partner of a man who experiences sexual difficulties, be aware that depression can cause:

  • A decrease in libido or not being interested in sex at all
  • Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection
  • Difficulty reaching orgasm

However, sexual difficulties can also be caused by a variety of other factors, such as medication side effects, physical health problems, or relationship issues. Therefore, it’s important to advocate that he consults with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of any sexual difficulties.

Withdrawal and isolation

Men who are experiencing depression often pull away from friends and family. They may be embarrassed for us to see them unwell or not want to burden us with their problems.

  • He stops going out or making plans himself
  • He repeatedly cancels plans with others
  • He switches from working in person to working remotely more often
  • He overworks or spends all his time at one thing (gaming, going to the gym, on his phone etc., while avoiding other areas of his life)

Social isolation is a significant concern, as it means fewer chances for others to notice how a guy is doing, less social engagement and connection, and fewer chances for him to reach out (and to receive support from others).

Drinking excessively or more than usual

People often drink alcohol as a way to unwind, relieve stress, or have fun with friends. When struggling with depression, a guy may be more tempted to use alcohol as a way to numb negative emotions or to help himself fall asleep.

Signs that a man is using alcohol to manage depression include:

  • He starts drinking or drinks more often (alone or with others)
  • He stays out longer at bars or clubs when drinking
  • He orders doubles or switches to drinks with higher alcohol content
  • He gets drunk to the point of blacking out
  • He starts drinking shortly after coming home from work

Unhealthy drinking (i.e., drinking too much, too frequently) and depression are strong risk factors for one another.

Increased drug use

Like alcohol, other drugs seemingly offer men a simple way to alter their mood. In the moment, different substances may make him feel more confident, elated, or calm. Signs that this can actually be an indicator for depression include:

  • He starts to use drugs more frequently to numb or escape feelings
  • He begins experimenting with new or harder drugs
  • Using drugs without a concern for safety (e.g., where he used to get his meds through a doctor’s prescription, he’s now buying them from an untrusted source like a friend of a friend or dealer)

Sometimes substance use, especially when the drug in question has effects like euphoria or high energy, can mask many of the other symptoms of depression. While some may assume that a guy who takes illicit drugs is simply a party-goer, the truth may be more complex; it may be a sign that he is using drugs as a way to mask or escape other issues.

What to do if you think a man may be depressed

In isolation, any one of the signs and symptoms described above is not necessarily indicative of depression. However, if a man you know has been experiencing these symptoms for a while (more than two weeks), and they’re having a significant impact on his everyday work, social or family life, then it’s time to start a conversation.

To help guide you, we’ve listed out the steps in our page on Starting a Conversation about depression.

Next Step:


References

  1. Rice, S. M., Fallon, B. J., Aucote, H. M., & Möller-Leimkühler, A. M. (2013). Development and preliminary validation of the male depression risk scale: furthering the assessment of depression in men. Journal of Affective Disorders, 151(3), 950–958. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2013.08.013

Free Self Guided Courses for Men: New Feature

We're excited to launch our free self-guided courses: Managing Anger and Irritability, Rewiring Negative Thoughts, and Mindfulness for Men.

View Courses