It’s Not All in Your Mind: How Testosterone Can Affect Your Mental Health

Man with brain fog

Maybe you’re feeling a little down, and you don’t know why. You’ve come to dread that stretch from 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. when your mind just churns and you can’t seem to sleep. Or perhaps you find yourself exploding with irritability and anger from time to time, and you have to admit that there’s just no reason for your emotional reactions.

You wonder, is there something wrong? The answer is probably one you don’t expect. Your testosterone levels could affect your brain. In fact, testosterone deficiency can have a profound effect on your mental health. Take a look at the connection between your hormones and your brain so you can understand what’s going on — and what you can do about it.

Testosterone and Mental Health

You may think of testosterone as the hormone that fuels your muscle mass and your sex drive — and that’s certainly true. But testosterone is a factor in all sorts of mental health issues as well, including ones you might never suspect would have a hormonal component.

Yes, testosterone deficiency is possibly at the root of your low libido and lack of interest in sex. But it can also fuel depression and anxiety. If you’re experiencing memory lapses and difficulty concentrating, you don’t have to leap to rash conclusions about early Alzheimer’s disease — you could actually see the result of low testosterone levels. Irritability and mood swings are common mental health conditions related to testosterone levels, as is fatigue. And insomnia is also sometimes a result of low testosterone levels.

Why is this the case? Your brain contains dedicated receptors for testosterone. These receptors need to receive a certain amount of testosterone to function normally. The normal range of testosterone is between 300 and 1,000 nanograms per deciliter of blood (ng/dL). As long as your testosterone is within that range, those neural receptors should function with what they’re receiving.

However, men’s testosterone levels drop naturally, beginning in their 30s. You can expect to see your testosterone levels decrease by about 1% per year for the rest of your life. For many men, that means their brains receive insufficient testosterone. When that occurs, the results are often depression, anxiety, mood swings, and other mental health conditions.

If you’re experiencing depression, irritability, or other mood changes that aren’t related to any increased stresses in your life, you should have your testosterone levels checked. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between testosterone and mental health.

Testosterone and Depression

Being depressed doesn’t mean you sit around the house moping all day, or at least, not necessarily. Your depression might show up as unexplained anger or frustration. It might show up in unhealthy eating habits or sleeping patterns, or it might manifest through your feelings of stress.

Your brain uses the neurotransmitter serotonin to help combat depression. The production of serotonin is linked to the production of testosterone — when your testosterone production increases, your body also produces more serotonin. If you’re experiencing testosterone deficiency, your production of serotonin may drop, and that can lead to depression. In fact, studies from George Washington University show that more than half of men with low or borderline levels of testosterone show signs of depression.

Many men with depression don’t recognize their condition for what it is — and even when they seek help, they may end up making their testosterone levels even worse. Antidepressants tend to lower testosterone levels, sometimes significantly.

And of course, low testosterone levels can have physical results that can make you feel not that great — symptoms such as erectile dysfunction, low libido, weight gain, and loss of muscle mass. If you can point to reasons why you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s not surprising to see a spiral toward depression. When you get tested for low testosterone, you can isolate that one factor and treat it, making it easier to understand what else is going on with your mood.

Testosterone and Anxiety

When you’re anxious, your adrenal glands pump out extra cortisol, a steroid hormone that triggers your body’s fight-or-flight response. Cortisol lowers the production of testosterone — and if you’re already dealing with low testosterone levels, that could put you in the danger zone. Your low testosterone levels can trigger depression and anxiety, and your body responds by producing more cortisol, creating a feedback loop that needs breaking.

Testosterone and Fatigue

Fatigue is certainly a physical symptom, but it’s all wrapped up with your mental health as well. How many times have you just felt exhausted, unable to make yourself get up and get anything done, even though you know that physically you’re able to. Yes, those extra hours you’re working play into your fatigue, and you can push past insomnia by paying attention to your sleep hygiene. But that overall loss of energy is also a possible a sign of low testosterone levels. And fatigue and depression can interact so you don’t seem to have the get-up-and-go for anything.

Testosterone and Irritability

You may have so many reasons to feel irritable already without throwing testosterone into the mix. How often do you just snap into the feeling of being distressed or grouchy, for no apparent reason? Maybe you have difficulty focusing on what you’re working on. The mood swings that come with low testosterone levels are no laughing matter. They’re also possibly more common among men who are dealing with testosterone-related depression.

Testosterone and Your Physical Health

If you are suffering from testosterone deficiency, it’s unlikely that mental health symptoms are the only ones you’re experiencing. Your sex drive is likely depleted, and you may have difficulty achieving and/or maintaining an erection.

Other physical symptoms that often manifest in men with abnormally low testosterone levels include weight gain around the belly and an overall loss of muscle mass. Less obvious is the loss of bone density that often accompanies testosterone deficiency, though you’re not likely to become aware of it unless your doctor orders tests.

Help for the Mental Health Symptoms of Testosterone Deficiency: Testosterone Replacement Therapy

If you’ve experienced depression, mood swings, fatigue, and anxiety along with some of the physical symptoms of testosterone deficiency, it’s time for you to get your testosterone levels checked. If they’re low, it’s actually good news for you, because testosterone replacement therapy has proven very successful at treating this condition.

And it helps with the mental health symptoms that can accompany low testosterone. Studies in Dresden, Germany have demonstrated that testosterone replacement therapy is effective at decreasing depression symptoms in men with low testosterone. Middle-aged men and men whose depression is relatively mild seem to reap the most benefits from treatment.

In many cases, testosterone replacement therapy makes a difference in symptoms of depression without having to take any antidepressants (which, as we’ve seen, just decrease testosterone levels even more). When your testosterone levels come back to normal, thanks to treatment, you should see the symptoms of testosterone deficiency, including mental health symptoms, fade away.

Testosterone replacement therapy is only appropriate for men whose testosterone levels are actually low. If you’re experiencing depression or other mental health symptoms and your testosterone levels prove normal, this treatment is not the right line of action. That’s why you should head to a men’s health clinic for testing.

Once a doctor confirms that you have low testosterone levels, you can choose from a wide range of testosterone delivery systems to get your levels back up to normal. Men who want to take charge of their own therapy often opt for testosterone gels, which they can apply themselves at home. The gels are rubbed on the arm a couple of times a week, and the testosterone soaks through the skin to enter the bloodstream.

At the other end of the spectrum are the men who don’t want to have to think about their treatment at all. They might opt for testosterone pellets, which are inserted under the skin of the buttocks. From there, the pellets dissolve over a period of several months, releasing testosterone slowly into the bloodstream.

In between those options are testosterone injections. You might head to your doctor’s office every month for injections, or you might administer them yourself at home, typically on a weekly basis. Another option is the testosterone patch, which you apply to your arm every few days.

The right choice for you depends on your lifestyle and your personal preferences. You can discuss all your options with your men’s health doctor, and you can change delivery systems if you find one you prefer.

Looking for Answers About Depression and Testosterone?

If you’re a man in Dallas wondering whether your depression, insomnia, mood swings, and anxiety are related to low testosterone levels, you’re not alone. And we can help. At Texas Men’s Health Group, we have the testing you need to answer questions, and we can help you find the right solutions. Testosterone replacement therapy could become the missing piece that makes sense of all your symptoms. We’ll discuss it together in an atmosphere of confidentiality and discretion. Contact us today to find the answers you’re seeking.