It is commonly believed that women suffer from anxiety disorders more than men, but the statistics can actually be misleading.
In fact, men suffer from anxiety and depression as frequently as women. However, men aren’t diagnosed and treated for these mental illnesses as often as women are.
This puts men with anxiety disorders at even greater risk for complications stemming from untreated mental illness – including alcohol and drug abuse.
Statistics on Depression and Anxiety Symptoms in Men
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S.
It’s estimated that in any given year in the U.S., around 16 percent of the population will suffer from a depressive disorder and 18 percent will suffer from an anxiety disorder.
It’s also common for someone with an anxiety disorder to suffer from depression, and vice versa.
Data from the National Health Interview Survey (2010-13) found that 8.5 percent of men experienced daily feelings of anxiety or depression. Only 41 percent of those men took medication or talked to a mental health professional about their feelings.
A 2013 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that more than 30 percent of men have suffered from depression at some point in their life.
This same study found that there was no significant difference in the rate of depression between women and men.
The study measured depression using a “gender-inclusive depression scale” that took into account the fact men often experience symptoms that are different than the standard diagnostic criteria.
Rates of Anxiety in Men Match Women
In fact, when the JAMA Psychiatry study looked at symptoms of depression that are more commonly expressed by men – including aggression, anger attacks, risk taking and substance abuse – men were found to have a higher rate of depression (26.3 percent) than women (21.9 percent).
When taking into account both traditional and alternative male-type symptoms, the rate of depression was nearly equal between the sexes (30.6 percent of men to 33.3 percent of women).
Despite the nearly equal occurrence of anxiety and depression in both genders, women are diagnosed with depression twice as often as men are, and with anxiety about 70 percent more often than men.
Why Do Men with Anxiety and Depression Go Undiagnosed?
Women are more likely than men to seek out treatment for anxiety and depression. As a result, they are more likely to be diagnosed and receive treatment.
Why don’t men seek out this same help as often as women do?
Cultural norms project the idea that men need to be strong at all times. Additionally, because emotional imbalance is seen as a “woman’s weakness”, men are especially reluctant to seek treatment for mental or emotional illness.
If they even acknowledge that something is wrong, the tendency is to simply label it as “stress” and try to manage their symptoms on their own, or look for a physical illness as the cause, such as heart problems.
In fact, male diagnoses for anxiety often happen when a man mistakes his panic attack symptoms as a heart attack. Symptoms of a panic attack and a heart attack include these same three characteristics:
- Racing heart
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
However, since a heart attack is more common among men, and anxiety is more commonly diagnosed among women, even doctors may mistakenly assume that these symptoms in men are due to a heart attack rather than a psychological disorder.
Signs of Depression and Anxiety in Men
Women and men may also exhibit different signs of anxiety or depression.
With depression, women may more often express sadness, whereas men may display antisocial behavior as they go on the offensive to try to cover up their inner insecurities.
Other male-type depression symptoms can include:
- Angry outbursts
Even though such behavior is generally believed to be inappropriate, it’s still considered better to be a jerk than to have a mental disorder, because “at least being a jerk is ‘manly'”.
Because men are afraid to admit to their anxiety problems, they often feel they are the only man who suffers from this sort of thing. The fewer men who speak up about their suffering, the less likely it is that other men will also speak up and ask for help.
Conditions That Amplify Depression and Anxiety in Men
There are a variety of different anxiety disorders. Some involve anxiety about a specific phobia, such as a fear of spiders or heights. Other types include social anxiety disorder, panic disorder and agoraphobia (fear of being outdoors or in uncontrollable, distressing situations).
One of the most common anxiety disorders is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
This refers to a persistent anxiety that isn’t necessarily focused on a certain situation or trigger, but is ongoing and has a negative impact on a person’s life.
Statistics show that only about one-third of the people who suffer from GAD receive treatment. Signs and symptoms of GAD can include:
- Worry or fear that is greater than the situation justifies
- Constant uneasiness or nervousness
- Easily startled or alarmed
- Sleeping difficulties due to anxiety
- Irritability due to tension
Other signs to watch out for, which can occur with a variety of mental illnesses, include:
- Significant changes in mood and behavior
- Anger, aggression, irritability
- Risk-taking behavior
- Sleeping problems – trouble falling asleep, sleeping too much or having nightmares
- Changes in appetite and/or digestive difficulties
- Persistent anxiety, nervousness or worry
- Headache, nausea, pain and other recurring physical symptoms
- Mood swings that interfere with work and family life
- Persistent sadness, apathy or loss of hope
- Suicidal thoughts
- Problems concentrating
- Obsessive or compulsive thoughts or behavior
- An increased use of alcohol or other substances to cope with symptoms
The Link Between Low Testosterone and Anxiety
Disorders aren’t the only physiological factor that can play a role in how depression or anxiety manifests in a man. Anxiety symptoms in men can also be the result of a decline in hormone levels.
Low testosterone, for example, contributes to an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol. Since cortisol is known to drive anxious feelings, any number of the symptoms outlined above may be expressed or increased in response to this hormone change.
Self-Medicating for Anxiety
Many men do not even realize they are battling a mental disorder, and try to handle their symptoms on their own. They often credit it to “just stress” and feel the need to “man up” and deal with it as best they can.
As a result, men are more likely to become addicted to substances such as:
- Street drugs like heroin and cocaine
- Illegally acquired prescription drugs such as anti-anxiety medication
While choosing to deal with anxiety on one’s own may serve a man’s pride in the short term, it ultimately prevents him from getting the correct help for his illness – or any help at all.
Over time, untreated anxiety disorders – and the substance abuse that often accompanies them – can lead to failed relationships, lost careers and legal consequences.
Men and Anxiety: Substance Abuse and Treatment
For men who suffer from both anxiety disorders and substance abuse, one of the best forms of treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT has been proven highly effective in showing men that the symptoms they thought were unchangeable – “just a part of who they are” – are, in fact, able to be improved. This knowledge provides relief from their symptoms and additional motivation and commitment to the recovery process.
If you have someone in your life you believe has become addicted to drugs or alcohol due to an underlying mental disorder, it’s important to seek care as soon as possible. A substance abuse treatment facility like ours can help address the specific needs of dual diagnosis rehabilitation.
Our mental health and addiction experts perform a detailed assessment of each of our clients to determine which factors have led to addiction, and then we plan to treat all contributing factors at the same time. This is the best way to reduce the chances of addiction relapse.