Asking most men to talk about their emotions will bring them out in a cold sweat. So, if one of your mates is depressed, they won’t necessarily show it – and they may well try to hide it.
But there are signs you should look out for if you suspect a man you know may be depressed.
One in 8 men experiences depression at some stage of their life. Men are more likely to recognise and describe the physical symptoms of depression (such as feeling tired or losing weight) than women. Men may acknowledge feeling irritable or angry, rather than saying they feel low.
Many men hate talking about their feelings because it makes them feel exposed. But if a mate is under stress or feeling depressed, it will help if they talk to someone about it. As a friend, there are ways you can get them to open up.
Depression isn't just about feeling sad or frustrated; it's about feeling out of control, powerless to handle emotions and unable to see a way out. It can affect anyone at any age and can be triggered by any number of things that can go wrong in our lives. Everyone feels ‘down' occasionally but if someone has been sad, moody, angry or unable to sleep or concentrate for more than a couple of weeks, it could be depression. A man might also lose interest in work, sport, sex, going out or other things he might previously have enjoyed.
Men can get depressed because of problems with their physical health; alcohol or drug abuse; loneliness; being unemployed; or bullying at school or work. Depression might also be due to a change in their life situation, such as a divorce or break-up, or even the birth of a baby.
But frequently, the depression has no obvious cause.
So, if a mate doesn't seem to have been themselves lately, think about the following:
1. Does he seem moody?
Men often disguise bigger, personal problems by complaining about life's little nuisances. If he's going on and on about the weather or last night's TV, and if you're worried about him already, it could be a sign that something deeper is wrong.
2. Has he changed his routine?
One of the key signs of depression is a loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy, whether that’s getting together with mates, working in the garden, or just getting outside for a walk or a run.
3. Is he acting strangely?
See how he talks to other people. Does he snap at co-workers? Has he suddenly become more shy or more confident? Is he drinking much more than he normally does?
If you think something might be wrong, try to get together for a serious conversation.
What can you do to help?
You don't have to say anything clever or have all the answers, but you do need to listen. Sometimes all it takes to break down the barriers is for you to start the conversation with your mate and ask if they’re doing OK.
Here are some tips for helping someone through difficult times:
- Get them talking. The biggest hurdle can be getting onto the subject in the first place. Let your mate know you want to help, but do it in a non-confrontational way.
- Don't wade in. Don't start off by asking him directly what the problem is, whether it's work, money or a relationship. You'll make him defensive.
- Try a 'stealth approach' instead. Ask him whether he's OK. Tell him you've been a bit worried about him recently. Or ask him if he wants to go for a coffee to talk about it.
- Go somewhere discreet. Don't try to talk in a place where his other mates might see or hear him. Find somewhere quiet to chat.
- Ask questions rather than offering answers. Psychiatrists ask open questions and let the patient do the talking. Ask about how whatever is bothering him started, how the problem has made him feel and whether he's spoken to anyone else about it.
- The hardest part is remembering not to offer advice. Don't tell your mate what to do; just ask more questions. It's the talking that's the therapy, not anything you suggest. If you start lecturing or judging him, he'll be defensive. And your advice could be wrong anyway.
- Keep it serious. It's tempting to make the situation into a joke because that could help you avoid an awkward conversation. But this isn’t a good time to joke. It might seem like you're not taking his problems seriously.
- Make sure you're OK yourself. Sharing someone else's troubles can be stressful. Be sure you're fit enough for the job before you get involved.
beyondblue has tips for starting a conversation with someone you’re worried about.
- MensLine is a phone and online counselling service for men with family and relationship concerns. A counsellor might be able to help your friend directly, or help you to help them. Call 1300 78 99 78.
- beyondblue’s support service is a great starting point for either of you. Call 1300 22 4636 — 24 hours, 7 days a week.
- If you think things with your mate are really bad, seek help immediately. If he expresses suicidal feelings, contact his doctor; Lifeline on 13 11 14; or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. You could also call healthdirect on 1800 022 222, or (if you are under 18) Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 for confidential support and advice and referral where appropriate.
Last reviewed: October 2018