The stress and isolation brought on by COVID-19, now lasting more than a year, has had a major impact on men’s mental health. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) website, its “Stress in America” survey found that 82% of fathers, compared to 68% of mothers, said they could have used more emotional support during the pandemic. This sentiment was also echoed by a 2020 Cleveland Clinic survey of U.S. males, 18 years and older. Of these men, 77% reported increased stress as a result of COVID-19 and 59% felt isolated during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, alcohol and drug abuse have become more prevalent and exacerbated during times of stress, such as the case with the pandemic that has contributed significantly to leading causes of death among men with heart disease and non-intentional injuries. Dealing with problematic substance abuse can also increase feelings of isolation and aloneness.
Lack of support, when going through tough times, is never easy for anyone. But this is particularly problematic for men. Much of a man’s social support comes from work and their significant other. Last year’s lockdowns that either furloughed some men from their job or forced them to work from home, took away that support system and camaraderie with coworkers men have come to rely on. On top of that, men usually have a smaller group of close friends than women, making it more difficult for reaching out to others to talk to.
Besides a lack of support, there were other impacts from COVID-19 affecting men’s mental health. One was how men’s role in the home changed, especially for men either furloughed or were regulated working from home. Men went from spending many hours outside the home working, to suddenly taking on more domestic chores like looking after kids, and cooking and cleaning. This new adjustment was disorienting for many men especially with the added stress of concerns over the economy and their family’s well-being.
However, there was some good news when this happened. Up to 45% of men reported they felt healthier than before the pandemic. This was attributed to getting more sleep, adding exercise to their new routine, and eating healthier meals cooked at home reducing the number of times eating out. Another bright spot was that men, who were homebound, spent more time with their family strengthening family bonds and interacting more often with their children.
Lack of men seeking mental health advice
It’s always been difficult for men to admit they need help. Even when suffering from physical pain, men tend to stay silent until it becomes absolutely necessary to see a doctor. Emotional pain and suffering affecting men is even worse. Men already are known for avoiding doctors even during good times but having depression and anxiety, is viewed as a sign of weakness, a stigma that still exists despite advances in mental health.
Men feel pressure to look and be strong without showing vulnerability. While the image of the “strong, silent man” is rooted deep in our culture, men can still appear strong and in control when they understand that asking for mental health advice is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength. There should be no shame or guilt for men to ask for help when feeling despondent or hopeless.
What mental health resources are available for men?
The pandemic has increased the incidence of mental health crises making it more prevalent than ever. Trying to manage mental and physical health declines during the pandemic has not been easy for either patients or healthcare professionals.
Men are less likely than women to seek help for depression, substance abuse, and stressful life events due to social norms, downplaying symptoms, and a reluctance to talk.
A major roadblock preventing men from seeking in-person help has also been the wariness of being in a medical facility when COVID-19 is still around. That’s why telemedicine has become an accessible and less intimidating way for men seeking mental health advice to engage with their healthcare professionals. A virtual visit is an easy way to begin to address any mental health issues affecting men either due to the pandemic or not.
The most important thing for men to know is that there are numerous trained health professionals available to guide men on regaining improved mental health. Any man struggling to emotionally should visit the National Institute of Mental Health to find various mental health resources that would best suit their needs.
I encourage men to reach out to these support systems that exclusively focus on mental health issues. Going through a pandemic has been hard for everyone; you’re not alone. The best way to move forward is to address your mental health needs for long-term life satisfaction and overall well-being.