The impact of the covid crisis on men’s mental health

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Calls to “Come on now, stop crying; be a brave boy,” or “Man-up son, you can do better than this” start at an early age for many boys. This indoctrination of the implied requirements of masculinity carries a mental health burden throughout their lives. Some 75 per cent of suicides are by men or boys, who are often less likely to talk openly about feeling distressed.

The pandemic and lockdown have exacerbated mental health risks, especially for men. Places where men can traditionally let off steam such as the gym, the football pitch or the pub, have closed. Even the daily routine and change of environment of leaving home and going to work has ceased for many – with this week’s redundancy announcements adding further stress. Being with people for a prolonged period in a small space where everyone is feeling the pressure can increase many mental health issues – even if you are with someone you love.

In a recent YouGov Covid-19 survey, 33 per cent of men pointed to a lack of freedom, 42 per cent to not being able to see friends and family, and 17 per cent to feeling stressed at home, as the causes behind the increase in poor mental health. Symptoms included feelings of anger, depression, anxiety, sleep pattern changes, loss of appetite and loss of sexual interest. The lack of social possibilities during lockdown have made it easier to withdraw, and isolation can be the result.

Mental health issues do not usually happen overnight. Keeping an eye on your wellbeing and noticing any changes may prevent any serious long-term effects. It is easier to deal with problems early than it is to recover from extensive mental ill health. This is as essential for women as well as men.

Symptoms to look out for:

  • Problems sleeping and appetite issues
  • Sexual performance problems and loss of libido
  • Irritability and anger
  • Withdrawal and bottling things up
  • Increased drinking
  • Mood shifts and mood swings
  • Lack of interest in yourself – such as your appearance and hygiene (though we’ve all had a pyjama day at some point during lockdown!)

The great news is that you can prevent things escalating, if you work at it. Take note of any changes as these can be slow and insidious. Deal with potential loneliness by making the effort to socialise, on a regular basis, even if it is virtually – we’re all Zoomers now (other brands are available …).

Keep yourself on a schedule to help maintain regular sleep patterns and make your bed as soon as you get out of it. You’d be surprised how effective this is. Eat healthily and don’t rely on junk food or fast food that’s high in carbohydrates and sugars – they give you a fast lift, but very deep lows that encourage procrastination.

Exercise is important. Getting out for a walk will make a big difference (the less you feel like doing it, the more you need it) or simply exercise at home. There are various options out there for making it fun by joining in with others – and for something a little different try dancing (it’s very easy and the music will lift your mood).

Small steps of change make a big difference over time. Dedication and determination will conquer the battle of lethargy.

As humans, we are designed to have emotions. These will vary a lot and all are valid, but they are normally transient. Extended periods of euphoria, or deep sadness, should ring alarm bells. Don’t ignore these changes and think they will go away; this is the time to act. Asking for help is not a weakness, it is a strength. Talk to people around you, speak to your GP and seek help from support groups such as Mind and the Samaritans. Or seek help online through accredited therapists. You are not alone and you most certainly are not the only one struggling.

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