Boys are often left out of conversations about the epidemic of teen depression: although girls are more often diagnosed with depression, boys are more likely to commit suicide. These gender differences are linked to how girls are more likely to be socialized to talk about emotions, while boys are encouraged to “man up” and hide their insecurities.
Gender Differences in Depression
The National Institute of Mental Health claims that boys and girls probably experience depression at similar rates, but their symptoms appear differently. Boys who are depressed may appear to be angry or aggressive instead of sad, their families, friends, and even their doctors may not always recognize the anger or aggression as depression symptoms. They are less likely than women to recognize, talk about, and seek treatment for depression. Boys are more likely to be referred to professionals for physical complaints, legal issues, or process addictions, such as substance abuse, excessive gaming, sexual behavior, and impulsive behavior.
Signs your Teenage Son May be Depressed
Major Depressive Disorder is characterized by depressed mood, lack of or loss of interest in activities, change in appetite, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal ideation, with symptoms lasting at least two weeks. Red flags for depression in teenage boys include irritability, aggressiveness, high-risk activities, and substance use, which are all often dismissed as “boys will be boys.”
While it is normal for teenagers to experience more intense emotions, explore different identities, and struggle to talk about their experiences with their parents due to fear of judgment or lack of trust, teenagers who are struggling with depression are at a high risk for serious consequences if left untreated. As their brains are still developing and they are learning who they are as an independent person, teenagers develop coping skills and belief systems in adolescence that become ingrained and can affect their ability to show up in other areas of their lives in adulthood. Teenagers struggling with depression may also struggle with academic performance, making and keeping friends, being bullied, family relationships, physical health, poor decision making, and substance dependence as a coping skill.
How Parents can Help Overcome the Stigma about Male Depression
Start the conversation. There is no shame in feeling negative emotions. Ask how they are feeling. Listen to their experiences. Read about the psychology of boys and masculinity.
Empathize with what they are going through. Remind them that they are not alone. Offer a shift in perspective. Give them space if they need it.
Talk therapy normalizes openness about emotions and helps minimize rumination. Validating emotions allows boys to process their experiences without judgment. Help them find a therapist they feel comfortable with. Recognize that reaching out is uncomfortable.
Social support helps minimize isolation and feelings of loneliness. Encourage spending time with friends and getting involved in activities they enjoy to meet like-minded people. Make yourself available if they want to reach out. Encourage connection instead of detachment.
Encouraging adventure-based therapy and recreation. Physical activity is a great outlet for restless energy and anger. Adventure-based therapy helps students rediscover activities they are passionate about, connect with their natural environment, and build confidence in their problem-solving abilities.
Teach communication skills and emotional intelligence. One of the biggest barriers teenage boys experience to getting help is being unable to identify and describe their own and others’ feelings. Help them develop an emotional vocabulary. Encourage them to continue conversations on their own.
Equinox RTC is a residential treatment center in Western North Carolina for young boys ages 14-18 that emphasizes the mind-body connection in helping teenage boys struggling with depression. We emphasize academics, family therapy, adventure therapy, physical fitness, and relationships. Students develop a healthy sense of social and emotional awareness and learn how to incorporate good habits into their daily lives We understand that this is a difficult and confusing time for the whole family, but we’re here to help you find light in the darkness.