According to data from the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, mental illness is higher among women than men. But are those statistics true?

How Men Deal with Depression Differently

Experts believe that men often hide their symptoms of anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions, suffering silently in shame and embarrassment.

Responding to the overall stigma associated with mental health, men often do not seek help for their mental anguish, only exposing their true emotions when other problems surface.

“It wasn't until they retired or got divorced or something happened — they lost a job — all of a sudden, that stuff comes flooding back," remarks Dr. Elizabeth I. Jackson, a VA psychiatrist. Yet clearly they do suffer from emotional problems, as male suicide rates are far higher than women's.

Most Common Cases for Male Depression

This is especially true among young returning soldiers and senior widowers. Used to their social lives being directed by their spouses, elderly widowers in particular often experience isolation, yet lack social skills and a supportive network to help them adjust and recover from their losses.

Meanwhile, many veterans are coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq, seemingly intact but suffering from an invisible, yet pernicious war-wound known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Afraid they may be bypassed for military promotions or honors or ashamed of appearing weak to their superiors and fellow soldiers, many try to hide their symptoms.

Masking flashbacks, nightmares and angry outbursts by relying on drugs and alcohol to numb their pain and suppress their feelings, many former soldiers isolate themselves. Consequently, their personal and professional relationships frequently suffer, as the underlying trauma and resulting illness becomes overwhelming.

Available Treatments and Therapy

Those who do seek mental help are often subject to delays and inadequate support by a VA hospital system caught wholly unprepared and underfunded for such an influx of mental illness—perhaps due to under-reporting of male psychological disorders to begin with.

Another obstacle preventing men from seeking professional help may be related to the treatment itself. While medications are often prescribed for mental conditions, psychotherapy is frequently recommended to help patients explore thoughts, feelings and associated behaviors.

Unfortunately, such treatment, though found to be highly effective when administered through a trained professional, lends itself more naturally to women; since they tend to feel more at ease discussing personal emotions and experiences. Men, on the other hand, often fear such disclosures will identify them as failures or as incompetent.

Attempting to remedy the problem within the military, the VA has expanded mental health centers across the country, increased outreach efforts and hired more mental health professionals to reach soldiers immediately upon their return. Scientists are also engaged in various studies to uncover ways to identify soldiers at risk for developing PTSD prior to their service. And even President Obama himself has called for an end to the stigma of PTSD among veterans.

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Tony Attwood, Ph.D.
Katherine J. Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW


Date of original publication:

Updated: February 21, 2017