Photo of a man sitting on a couch with his hands in a thinking position on his head

"Building awareness of these thoughts and feelings can help clue us in to the fact that something may be off, and that depression could be the culprit."

Feeling sad or having lower energy than usual are normal responses to everyday life. It’s normal to feel fatigued after a few nights of bad sleep, or feel sadness when we receive bad news about a loved one. Everyone experiences these feelings at times, but how do we know if what we’re dealing with is more than just a normal reaction to stress?

Depression is a very common condition. It’s currently estimated that around 280 million people, or 3.8% of the global population, are affected.[1] Yet, despite its prevalence, depression can often be hard to identify. We may hear it described as a dark cloud following us around, or a heavy weight that is drags us down.

These ambiguous descriptions are reflected in the fact that two people can meet the criteria for major depressive disorder and yet have different symptoms.[2] This difficulty in describing depression can contribute to it being misunderstood, but the symptoms are just as real as those that may accompany something like a broken bone or diabetes.

This article will highlight some common symptoms and what they feel like, helping us to identify what it is that we may be experiencing. Regardless of which of the symptoms you may be dealing with, you are not alone in feeling them.

Common Feelings & Symptoms

Nothing Brings Pleasure, Not Even Our Usual Favourite Activities

“There would be days on end when I would be so unmotivated I would do nothing but sit in my room and cry.” Julian’s Story

A reduced ability to experience pleasure is a common sign that we might be experiencing depression. When we have a hard time getting excited about doing the things that normally bring us joy – whether that’s spending time with friends, going for a run, or working on a hobby – we could be depressed. We may lose interest in socializing with people and want to shut ourselves off from the world. There is even a medical term for this feeling: anhedonia.

We Feel Hopeless, Worthless, or Helpless

“Struggling with mental illness, I remember feeling so helpless, as if my world was surrounded by darkness.” Will’s Story

When struggling with depression, it’s very common to feel like we’ll never get better (hopeless), or that doing anything to improve our situation is totally out of reach (helpless). Some men will describe feelings of worthlessness, thinking and believing that they do not deserve love or affection from their friends and family, or any kind of success. This can also turn into a vicious cycle where our depression feeds into feelings of self-criticism, and we become overly harsh to ourselves for feeling hopeless or worthless.

We Have Low Energy, Fatigue, and Feel Unable To Do Anything

“Fatigue [was] wearing me down to the point where I felt like I was going crazy.” Louis’ Story

If we feel that anything that requires effort, no matter how little, is just impossible to do, we could be experiencing depression. This can tie in with a feeling of constant fatigue and low energy, even in the absence of obvious sleeping difficulties or physical health concerns. 

Another way this can show itself is through slowed movements or speech patterns. This can be a subtle sign, but if we are aware that we’re not as expressive as usual, or have a hard time getting up to even walk to the fridge or bathroom, we could be experiencing depression. This is also something that may be easier for our friends and family to identify.

We Find it Difficult to Focus & Concentrate

“… or how sometimes my mind would be so foggy that I would find myself staring at my laptop screen while time just ticked away.”Mike’s Story

Depression can manifest as having difficulty concentrating on tasks at work and at home. We may notice that we have a difficult time putting together more than a few thoughts, or find ourselves spending hours at work or school without accomplishing anything. We might also notice that we are much more indecisive than usual, or find ourselves forgetting things frequently.

We Think About Self-Harm or Suicide

“Depression is a liar, it will tell you things that are not true.” Anthony’s Story

Self-harm and suicidal ideation are common among those with depression. [3] We may be feeling that it would be better if we just didn’t wake up tomorrow, or we may be actively coming up with plans to hurt ourselves or end our life. This kind of thinking can reflect a wish to end the terrible pain that we’re feeling. If you are feeling suicidal it’s crucial to reach out and seek support. No one should have to fight depression on their own. Here are a few resources to do so.

Symptoms That are More Common in Men

While there is considerable overlap in symptoms of depression across all genders, some feelings and behaviours are more common in men.[4] In fact, research shows that men may be mis-diagnosed or not diagnosed at all due to their symptoms not aligning with standard diagnostic criteria.[4] This does not mean that if guys have some of these symptoms they’re not actually depressed, but rather that building awareness of these thoughts and feelings can help clue us in to the fact that something may be off and that depression could be the culprit.

Anger, Irritability, & Aggression

“I was finding things to get angry at just because it felt good to be angry and that wasn’t working.” Michael’s Story

We may notice that it doesn’t take very much to make us irritated or angry, or we might find ourselves frequently lashing out in aggression over mundane events. Men are more likely to reveal their underlying depression in this way, in comparison to crying or talking about the sadness that they feel. This is partly due to societal factors around what emotions are seen as “acceptable” for men to display. 

Reckless Behaviour/Substance Use

“For a short time, substances buried my problems. And then they got worse. So much worse.” Trevor’s Story

Men may more readily turn to using drugs and alcohol when depressed, in an effort to escape from or numb the pain they’re feeling, instead of reaching out for help. Sometimes men may feel a heavy burden to handle everything on their own. 

Guys might also engage in behaviours like unsafe driving or careless gambling in an attempt to feel something, or because they no longer care if something goes wrong.

Low Libido or Erectile Dysfunction

“It’s kind of hard to get intimate when you just feel numb inside.” – Sam – 4 Men Share Their Honest Experiences with Anxiety and Depression

Changes in sexual behaviour and desire are common when depressed. We might find that our sex drive is incredibly low, or notice that when we do engage in sexual activity it is more difficult to achieve or maintain an erection. The dual emotional and physical nature of these symptoms can be a strong indicator that one might be depressed. 

Escapism & Avoidance

“I spent a few months by myself, working a manual labour job for 12-14 hours per day, coming home to eat, and going to the gym for another hour or two – all so that I could avoid having to face myself and my feelings.” – Jake’s Story

Men are more likely to take part in escapist behaviour when depressed,[5] such as putting all of themselves into their work, spending too much time at the gym, or losing themselves in mindless scrolling on social media or the internet in order to avoid being left alone with their dark thoughts. The need for escape can also go hand-in-hand with substance misuse. 

How do I know if I have depression?

As mentioned above, experiencing some of these feelings every now and then is a completely normal part of life. However, if you notice an increase in how often you’re feeling these things, or you find that you’re experiencing lots of these feelings at the same time, you could very well have depression. Noticing that these feelings are more common or overwhelming than usual can be a good sign that it’s time to reach out and ask for help. Speaking with a friend, doctor, or therapist can be a great first step in understanding these feelings and coming up with strategies to cope with them in healthy ways. 

If you are feeling some of these symptoms, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and that lots of other men are experiencing the very same things. Most of the quotes included in this article are from our Recovery Stories section, written by men that have lived experience with many of these feelings. To get a better sense of whether or not what you’re experiencing is depression, you can click the button below to take our Self-Check, which can help you evaluate your own mental health.


References

  1. World Health Organization. (2021, September 21). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
  2. Fried, E (2017). Moving forward: How depression heterogeneity hinders progress in treatment and research. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 17(5), 423-425. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14737175.2017.1307737
  3. Gonzalez, V (2008). Recognition of mental illness and suicidality among individuals with serious mental illness. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 196(10), 727-734. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0b013e3181879deb
  4. Oliffe, J. L., Rossnagel, E., Seidler, Z. E., Kealy, D., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., & Rice, S. M. (2019). Men’s depression and suicide. Current Psychiatry Reports, 21(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-019-1088-y
  5. Brownhill, S., Wilhelm, K., Barclay, L., & Schmied, V. (2005). ‘Big build’: Hidden depression in men. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39(10), 921-931. https://doi.org/10.1080/j.1440-1614.2005.01665.x

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