Despair, anxiety, agitation: Male depression in the over 60s

David is a 63 year-old lawyer. He had become increasingly depressed over the past year experiencing despair, anxiety and agitation.

David is a 63 year-old lawyer. He had become increasingly depressed over the past year experiencing despair, anxiety and agitation. His mind was busy all the time, day and night. He found it difficult to sleep and had lost his appetite. At times he had suicidal thoughts  and questioned the point of going on. Even though he had a wife and two adult children, he felt empty and alone.

David’s depression was triggered by a traumatic partnership collapse in his business. He felt betrayed and also blamed himself for not anticipating the problems. The heavy financial loss led to feelings of inadequacy and failure.

David was started on a course of anti-depressants and also saw a psychologist for Cognitive Therapy. Over the next few months his mood started to lift significantly as he learnt strategies to regulate his mood and work through his emotions associated with the trauma. In turn he became more compassionate towards others and himself.

We asked Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball, the Authors of Beating the Blues, a series of questions about male depression to help us all understand it better…

Do you have other questions for them? 



1. Is male depression very common?

Yes depression amongst males is common. On average, one in six Australian adults will experience depression in their lifetime. One in eight of these will be males. Around one million Australian adults and 100,000 young people live with depression.


2. How do we recognise male depression across our community?

Men are less likely to show more ‘typical’ signs of depression such as sadness. Depression in men may cause them to keep their feelings hidden. Men who are depressed are more likely to talk about the physical symptoms of their depression, such as feeling tired rather than symptoms related to emotions. They also tend to be more irritable and aggressive. Some men may attempt to numb out their distress through alcohol, overworking or becoming addicted to the internet.


3. How do men recognise depression in themselves?

Depression will affect how the man feels about himself. Men may recognise themselves losing interest in work, hobbies and in doing things they usually enjoy. He may lack energy, have difficulty sleeping or sleep more than usual. He may find it difficult to concentrate. Depression can also be affecting his sexual desire and performance.


4. If you are married to or friendly with someone who is depressed and you can identify the signs – what do you do?

A good start is to accept that the person is suffering and so don’t belittle their depression or question whether it is real or not. Help him to express his feelings and any underlying worries and concerns. Show that you are trying to understand and allow him to open up to you. Discuss with him in specific terms what he would find helpful. This is different for each person.


5. What if they don’t want to admit it to themselves?

If the person is in denial it may be necessary to ask other people whom they trust to talk to them about their own difficult experiences of and how they got through. It may be helpful to express your concern to them and suggest that you go to their doctor together. If they refuse, you can discuss your options with your GP or visit a psychologist.


6. What times of life is depression most prevalent? Can it be triggered by the environment? Is it attitude or chemical?

Depression can be triggered by a number of factors including stress and hormones. Depression is therefore most prevalent during times of life when there are major environmental adjustments, pressures, losses and hormonal changes such as menopause. Depression is a result of both negative attitudes and biochemical changes.


7. People often say you can pull yourself out of a depression? Is this true?

Whereas ups and downs are a normal part of life – depression is a serious condition. Occasionally the depression will lift without intervention. However, treatment is generally required and will lesson the severity of the depression and also prevent future episodes.


8. What sort of treatments are there for male depression?

Treatment generally includes a combination of anti-depressants and psychological therapy. Over the past 50 years, cognitive therapy has been found to be the most effective. It systematically teachers how to regulate thoughts and feelings and to change ingrained thinking habits such as “I’m not good enough.”


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Susan Tanner and Jillian Ball are Australian psychologists and co-authors of the best-selling book Beating the Blues: A self-help approach to overcoming depression ($29.95), now available at all good book stores and online at

image:  dyniss