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Testosterone and depression seem to be connected, but exactly how is not something we know right now.

Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men, but regardless of gender everyone requires some testosterone for their development and health. Testosterone is crucial for guys as it contributes to muscle size and growth, sex drive, bone strength, as well as sperm production.

Testosterone may also be helpful in maintaining normal mood, but the connection isn’t well understood. 

While a combination of talk therapy, lifestyle changes, and medication (in more severe cases of depression) can help most guys recover, other treatment options may be needed for some men. 

Can testosterone help with depression?

Let’s look at what we know about testosterone and testosterone therapy. 

  • Symptoms of low testosterone (a health issue called hypogonadism) include low sex drive, decreased energy, and depression.
  • Testosterone therapy can help men with hypogonadism and reduce the symptoms above, including depressive symptoms. As an example, Cody’s Recovery Story talks about his experiences with low testosterone and how getting it sorted also helped him recover from depression. 
  • This leads many to wonder if testosterone therapy can also help men with normal levels of testosterone to fight depression.

Researchers are currently looking into ways testosterone could be used to help treat depression, but not a lot of long term or sizeable studies have been done yet. The biggest and most relevant study, published in 2019, comes from research being done at a German university. 

This meta-study gathered data from 27 smaller studies that looked at the use of testosterone therapy while also tracking patients’ moods in some way, to see it’s impact on depression. 

The study confirmed that treating men who had low testosterone with testosterone therapy can significantly improve their depressive symptoms. It also found some evidence that guys with normal levels of testosterone may show improvements when treated with testosterone, though it seemed to help only men with relatively minor depressive symptoms.

It’s not clear if increasing testosterone helped men with depression specifically or helped in more specific areas – like a person’s energy, which then helped them feel better about recovering from depression. 

At the same time, other studies have not found a direct connection between increasing testosterone and treating depression. High levels of testosterone can also cause a wide variety of health issues (increased risk of heart attack, issues with your prostate, and low sperm count, among many other serious negative side effects). 

How do I check my testosterone level?

Testosterone levels can be measured through a blood test but interpreting results is a bit complicated, as the range for what’s “normal” is wide and varies for each person. Testosterone levels also change during the day and more generally decrease over time as a normal part of aging – so there isn’t a set number every guy should be at.

Symptoms of low testosterone include:

  • Reduced body and facial hair
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Low libido, impotence, small testicles, reduced sperm count and infertility
  • Increased breast size
  • Hot flashes
  • Irritability, poor concentration and depression
  • Brittle bones and an increased risk of fracture [Harvard Health]

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression (see our Self Check) along with symptoms of low testosterone, it’s important to discuss with your doctor and have your testosterone level tested to determine whether it may be an underlying factor in your depression. 

The bottom line

Unfortunately, for now, the answer isn’t as straightforward as we’d like. 

If you have low testosterone levels:

  • Testosterone therapy can help restore a more normal testosterone level, which may help improve your depressive symptoms. 

If you have normal testosterone levels:

  • It’s not clear if testosterone therapy is a useful treatment for depression. More longer term studies are needed before any recommendations can be made. 

Additional Resources and References

Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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