Depression is sometimes called the common cold of mental health, but it's unlike the common cold in at least two important respects: It doesn't go away in a week without treatment, and it doesn't affect men and women equally or in the same ways. Though depression seems to affect more women than men, it presents special problems for men, reports the November issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
In the United States, about half as many men as women are diagnosed as being seriously depressed at some time in their lives. But this relatively low rate could be an illusion. Men often don't like to admit that they are depressed, so they are more likely to withdraw into silent misery or hide depression under anger, irritability, alcoholism, or drug abuse.
Depression can be an even more serious matter for men than for women. To begin with, it is a key risk factor for suicide, and men commit suicide four times more often than women do. Another mortal concern for men with depression is cardiovascular disease. Depression affects blood pressure, blood clotting, and the immune system. It's a well-known risk factor for heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. Men are especially vulnerable because they develop these diseases at a higher rate and at an earlier age than women.
"The most important thing others can do for a man who shows signs of depression is to help him contact a physician or mental health professional," says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. "If necessary, accompany him to treatment and encourage him to continue until his symptoms improve."