Mental health support for men: spotting the signs of depression

Men and mental health

It can be a very lonely existence for a man struggling with his mental health.

Despite greater awareness about men’s mental health, and high-profile attempts by charities to banish the stigma for good, many men are racked by the belief that they should be tough and fearless. As a result, many are reluctant to display any signs that could be taken as a weakness, instead choosing to suffer in silence.

The numbers affected are significant, with more than a tenth of UK men living with one or more common mental health disorders. But how can you help men who show signs of depression?

Read on to find out more about men and mental health, and the support that’s available.

Men and mental health – a case study

William was confused by the early warning signs of depression just over nine years ago. He initially suppressed them, until the sadness and anxiety manifested in a more catastrophic way for him and his loved ones.

He said: “I was so aggressive. Whereas before I would let things go, I was up for the fight. The slightest thing would make me angry.

“The emotional side of me died and I wasn’t showing any empathy. Family values went out of the window. My three children are my world and yet I just upped and left them one weekend. I was completely self-absorbed. A different person.

“I wasn’t sleeping and the less I slept, the worse I was. Yes, there were brief interludes where I felt brighter, but I was so down. I had never been like it before.”

William said the issues bearing down on him could have been manageable if they’d been dealt with in isolation. However, there was a slow, cumulative effect as the various pressures combined, so he felt like he was drowning.

Taking responsibility for being the breadwinner for the family, the demands and logistics of young children and financial strains as he and his wife embarked on their long-held ambition to build their own home, the pressure saw a dramatic change in personality for the perpetual joker.

William said: “It just felt like water was being added to the pint glass and added and added and added and, at some point, it was going to spill over the sides. The balance was all out.”

The 47-year-old cites his wife and family as making the biggest difference. They recognised the symptoms and possible signs of depression in their dad, remained patient and encouraged him to visit his GP. Following a test involving several questions to determine his state of mind, he was offered counselling and a course of antidepressant drugs.

William said: “There was a significant waiting list for the counselling on the NHS. If you are ready to talk, I would say make an appointment to go privately. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. But you have lost nothing by trying and I am sure everyone can get something out of it.”

The sessions served to give him positive coping mechanisms and his GP is monitoring his prescription with a view to slowly decreasing the dose until he can stop altogether.

William said: “When I’m stressed, I can feel the familiar sensations surface, but I am learning how to deal with that in a different way. I know I am not on my own and that it is OK to ask for help.”

What is depression and what are common signs in men?   

Depression in men is common and it affects millions of men from all walks of life, at any age.

Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, but it can cause real problems if you don’t seek help. Classic symptoms of depression include prolonged low moods, loss of enjoyment in hobbies, and problems focusing. Men also tend to be more likely than women to show these signs of depression:

Anger: This could range from having a short fuse and becoming more sensitive to criticism. It could include serious changes like road rage, or abusive behaviour to a partner or loved one.

Recklessness: Risky behaviour, such as excessive drinking, substance abuse or unsafe sex.

Physical symptoms: Depression in men can manifest as aches and pains, problems falling asleep, stomach trouble and sexual dysfunction – it can also cause erectile dysfunction.

No single thing triggers depression in men, but factors can include lifestyle choices, external stress at work, loneliness, past trauma, substance abuse, or a complex combination of multiple factors.

Men are also four times as likely as women to commit suicide from depression.

How can you help if you think someone close to you is suffering?

For many men, the idea of reaching out for support is daunting. If you think a friend, husband or dad is struggling with depression or other mental health disorder, there are ways to help.

Offer to listen. Listening to someone doesn’t mean you have to say much back. Sometimes they may find it helpful to just talk to you about their problems and to know that you’re there.

Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how they’re feeling and listen to their answers. If they’re not feeling great, or are worried about their mental health, ask if you can do anything to help.

You might find that they don’t want to get treatment. This might be because they:

  • Don’t think they need help or and things will get better on their own
  • Are so unwell they don’t think treatment will work
  • Don’t understand that they’re unwell
  • Fear what will happen to them if they tell their doctor how they feel
  • Are worried what other people might think
  • Are worried it will affect their job or studies
  • Feel hopeless

If the person doesn’t want to get help for their mental health, it can be very frustrating.

However, by choosing a good time to encourage them to speak with a professional, and by being mindful of the words you use so as not to create any unnecessary tension, you may be able to break the ice.

Instead of being forceful and demanding they take a course of action, use gentler phrases like:

“I’m concerned that you’ve seemed down recently”

“It’s seemed as though you’ve been angry recently - is that the case?”

“I’d like it if you spoke to the doctor about how you’re feeling”

You should also learn to gauge when someone might appreciate their own space, reassuring them you’re there when (and if) they want you.

Does Benenden Hospital offer men’s mental health support?

At Benenden Hospital, we understand the importance of men’s mental health. Benenden Health members have access to a mental health helpline, which is available from the day they join.

Benenden Health’s qualified, empathetic therapists are experienced in helping men with their mental health. They’ll be at the end of the phone at any time of the day or night to offer you support in dealing with conditions such as anxiety, depression, bereavement or relationship problems.

Benenden Health members can call the helpline on 0800 414 8247 while those interested in joining Benenden Health can call 0800 414 8004.

Read our other news articles about men’s health.

Published on 27 October 2020