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Denial, Defensiveness and Aggression: Recognizing Depression in Adult Males

written by: Dr. Jerry Kennard • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 6/5/2012

Denial and defensiveness have a way of pushing people to one side and stopping help being offered or accepted. Unfortunately these are just two of the signs of depression in adult males.

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    Depression in Men and Women

    There is no real evidence that points to a particular form of ‘male’ depression but the signs of depression in adult males do appear to differ, as do the ways men cope with depression. The fact that denial, or lack of symptom recognition, plays a strong part in male depression perhaps blurs the full extent of the problem. The ramifications of depression are far clearer, with an estimated 80 percent of suicides in the US being men.

    Depression, so the old saying goes, is anger turned inwards, but how useful or accurate is this when applied to men? From what we know of the signs of depression in adult males it is more common for women to internalize their emotions and for men to externalize theirs. Men, for example, are more likely to blame others for the way they feel whereas women are inclined to blame themselves. Whilst women feel sad, worthless and anxious, men get angry, irritable, suspicious and defensive.

    Get men to talk about how they are feeling when depressed and the male experience of depression becomes clearer. There is often an undercurrent of anger and hostility in the way they feel. They may reveal an increase in interpersonal conflict either at work, or home, or both. They are more acutely aware that things are going wrong for them, that somehow they have been set up to fail and that others who could help have chosen not to. There is a greater sense of isolation and frustration about the lack of respect and acknowledgment they feel they deserve.

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    Attitudes and Behavior

    Almost from the time of birth the socialization process of what it means to be male begins. As an adult male identity is often intricately linked to employment status, being the breadwinner, and participating in social networks based around work. Attitudes often develop around issues of power, competition and the ways in which success is defined and measured. When problems arise such as job-loss, the traditional role of breadwinner suffers and social networks collapse. This can have a cascade effect that increases marital conflict and the seeds for possible depression are sewn.

    When symptoms of depression start to take hold these same attitudes serve to prevent men talking about the way they feel or seeking out help. In the attempt to take control men often place more emphasis on work and less on relationships. With a sense of everything crowding in and feeling that there are limited options for improving their situation many men turn their back on the hobbies and activities they used to enjoy. They may become less interested in sex or even increase their sexual activity.

    Self-medication and distraction are some of the key outward signs of depression in adult males, especially if this contrasts with former behavior. Alcohol, drugs, TV watching and socially isolating activities such as working on an engine or spending time in the shed, are a few examples of the way men can cut off from others and just some of the signs of male depression.

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    References

    Men & Depression. The Royal College of Psychiatrists. http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfoforall/problems/depression/mendepression.aspx?

    Dunlop, Boadie and Mletzko, Tanja ‘Will current socioeconomic trends produce a depressing future for men?’ The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011) 198: 167-168.