Story by Andrada Florescu of Del Ray Psych
The Impact of COVID-19 on Men's Mental Health
Mental health challenges like anxiety and depression dramatically increased in March 2020 with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and men have been some of the hardest hit. Studies show that men are at greater risk of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 than women. There are likely many reasons for this trend, from potentially weaker immune systems to riskier choices surrounding alcohol and tobacco use. Beyond COVID-19 itself, the disease puts the spotlight on another issue disproportionately affecting men: mental health. The pandemic has led to a variety of mental health issues including increased stress, depression, and anxiety. There are increased reports of worry, changes in sleep, changes in diet, difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, and use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Overall, men and women display and cope with mood disorders differentially and the pandemic has further exasperated these gender differences. Men tend to have fewer friendships than women and the friendships they do have tend to be activity-based. Men are also less likely to confide in and establish close social connections with other men. Researchers at Cleveland Clinic found that stress and isolation significantly increased among men during the pandemic and about 45 percent of the 1,000 men surveyed said their emotional and mental health declined during this difficult period. The data also showed that this has been a more troubling period for adult males than past crises — with 59 percent saying COVID-19 had a greater negative impact on mental health than the 2008 economic recession. “Men have more difficulties with addressing their mental health and that can impact their physical health in turn,” said Dr. Petar Bajic, one of the doctors associated with the campaign at Cleveland Clinic Institute. He explained that this is in many ways a cultural and societal issue — many men view themselves as what he called “the primary breadwinner.” They feel that if their own health suffers, they won’t be able to fill that role in their family or community. Furthermore, many men tend to derive the base of their own self-esteem and sense of purpose from their careers and ability to provide financially for their families. Job loss and the economic problems that can come from it can be a major stressor for men who might have been the top earners in their households before the pandemic. To improve support for men facing mental health challenges, it is important to shine a light on the guilt and powerlessness that men may be experiencing. Reframing the narrative to emphasize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, may help more men ask for help when they need it. Telemedicine is also an accessible and less intimidating way to engage safely with a mental health provider during COVID-19. Men often report some discomfort and avoidance in fully disclosing details regarding their mental health when visiting their primary doctor, may shy away from seeking an in-person therapist and may be wary of entering a medical facility during the pandemic. A phone or virtual appointment from home is a less intimidating way to address mental health problems with a medical professional. To manage mental and physical health declines during this difficult time, men can start paying attention to a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, maintaining social ties with others, and prioritizing self-care. Spending time outdoors, developing hobbies, practicing meditation, and engaging in other wellness initiatives such as yoga can also be very helpful.