Peace of Mind Column: Men need treatment for alcohol/drug use AND depression

July 19, 2017

John began working when he was 17. He worked summers doing odd jobs, carpentry and painting mostly. These jobs paid relatively well and were flexible enough for the times when he couldn’t get out of bed, the times when shadows grew long and dark, when he wished he could plan when he would or wouldn’t feel depressed. 


John’s depression, however, didn’t work on a schedule. It seemed to appear out of nowhere, staying for a couple weeks and then it would cycle around in no apparent daily or weekly pattern.

Summers continued this way, with John often relieved when fall would come, and he would return to college. If he missed his classes because he was too depressed and tired, it didn’t matter. No one was usually counting on him to show up. It only began to matter when John finished college and started looking for what his parents said was a “real job.”

With the stress of trying to find a job, repay college loans, and live up to his parents’ expectations, John found his symptoms intensifying. However, like many men, he tried to hide his depression. Alcohol and marijuana were increasingly becoming his way of dealing with his depression.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health about six million men in the U.S. suffer from depression; however, men are 50 percent less likely than women to seek help for depression. In addition, depression is often a precursor of suicide. A 2015 NIMH study reveals that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women. This may result from a higher prevalence of untreated depression and also that when men do decide to commit suicide; they often go through with it by carrying out a much more lethal plan.

Rhode Island has the second highest rate of suicide attempts in the nation, but thankfully due to the proximity of emergency medical care, RI has a lower death rate than the national average. In 2008-2010, suicide was among the top four leading causes of death for people ages 10 through 44 years. During this period an average of 129 Rhode Islanders died by suicide each year; 80% of them men.

For most people, the common symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, feelings of worthlessness guilt, irritability. and loss of concentration. Men and women should consider talking to a mental health professional if they experience the aforementioned symptoms over a two week period:

Men, however, often express depression differently than women. Men appear to display more irritability and anger. They are also more apt to resort to alcohol or drugs than women, according to the NIMH.

At Newport Mental Health center, for example, males outnumber females in the two programs that treat clients with co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders, and over 80% of our clients with a serious mental health disorder have co-occurring substance use. While research has shown that not every addicted person is suffering from a mental health concern, the percentages of those with co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders are high. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 40 percent of those with substance use disorders also have a mental health disorder, usually untreated anxiety and depression.

Unfortunately, most people with co-occurring psychiatric disorders and substance use disorders do not receive treatment for both. It’s critical that anyone with both substance use and mental health needs be treated for both.

At Newport Mental Health, teams of psychiatrists, social workers and clinicians are trained to treat individuals with co-occurring disorders. One approach is the use of an evidenced-based practice, Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment (IDDT). With the appropriate medication and a collaborative approach to care among clients, psychiatric and substance use teams along with individual, family and group therapy, both men and women, can and do recover.