“I can remember it started with a loss of interest in basically everything that I liked doing.  I just didn’t feel like doing anything.  I just felt like giving up.  Sometimes I didn’t even want to get out of bed.”

A Male Police Office

Have you heard that joke about the man that is lost but refuses to ask directions?  This has become a standard jibe that women make about men that usually produces a laugh.

Many men have spent their lives learning to be self-sufficient and teaching their sons this independence.  I wonder why we think that men would reach out when they begin feeling depressed.  It goes against the grain of the fabric that makes up their lives to ask for help for every little thing – and sometimes very large things.

It is unclear if men are less prone to depression than women but more ladies do seek treatment each year.  Men are less apt to seek or receive treatment for depression because they may mask their symptoms of depression with physical complaints, feeling fatigued or irritable.  Men and women can develop the standard symptoms of depression but may experience it differently and have different ways of coping with the symptoms.

According to the National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH), major depression is a serious mental illness that affects 7% of men each year.  It is characterized by:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty mood”
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once pleasurable, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Persistent physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment.

The treatments for depression are generally medications, counseling or a combination of both.  80% of older adults with depression improve with these treatments.  Recognizing depression and supporting someone to receive treatment will help to make the senior years more enjoyable and fulfilling.  A counselor can also suggest lifestyle changes or kinds of relaxation that can reduce the daily stress that may be contributing to depression.

Depression is not a normal part of aging.  It is an illness that can be effectively treated allowing an older gentleman to feel much better, reduce unnecessary suffering, and report feeling better physically, too.

How important is it that older men attend to feeling of depression?  Very important!  According to WebMD, “men aged 65 and over are almost eight times as likely to commit suicide as their female counterparts”.  In fact, older white males suffer the highest rates of suicide in the United States (NIMH).

Here are some suggestions on how an older gentlemen can get started in treatment or get more information:

  • Make a confidential call to your insurance provider to find out who provides mental health services and then call for an informational appointment.
  • Make a confidential call to your local community mental health center and ask for information about depression.
  • Talk honestly with your physician about how you are feeling.
  • Talk openly with someone you trust (family member, good friend, pastor) about how you feel and ask them to go with you to an appointment.
  • WebMD and National Alliance for the Mentally Ill are good internet resources for more information.

In a nutshell – take depression seriously for the ones you love and for yourself.