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How Men’s Mental Health has been Disrupted during COVID-19

How Men’s Mental Health has been Disrupted during COVID-19

Man walking alone on country road towards sunset, illustrating importance of men’s mental health.“It’s a lonely man
Who wanders all around
It’s a lonely man
Who roams from town to town

Searchin’, always searchin’
For something he can’t find
Hopin’, always hopin’
That some day fate will be kind”

– Elvis Presley “Lonely Man”

Loneliness can be harmful to men’s mental health. The pandemic and the resulting isolation due to social distancing protocols have likely had an impact on a man’s emotional, spiritual, and mental health.

According to an online survey of 1,000 U.S. males 18 years or older by the Cleveland Clinic as part of its annual educational MENtion It® campaign, “77 percent of men report their stress level has increased as a result of COVID-19” and “59 percent of men have felt isolated during the pandemic.”

The “MENtion It” campaign is designed to address how men often do not “MENtion” health issues or take steps to prevent them.

Nearly three in five respondents of the Cleveland Clinic survey said that the COVID-19 pandemic had a “greater negative impact on mental health than the 2008 economic recession.”

Has COVID-19 Affected Men’s Roles in the Home Along with Their Mental Health?

Button with GeneSight logo and text learn more about the GeneSight testDuring the pandemic, roles and responsibilities in many households may have shifted. For example, some men took on more domestic chores and/or engaged in more quality time with their children.

“Many men are finding themselves in new and different roles as a result of this pandemic; for example, they are out of work or are working around the clock at home looking after kids with their partners all while worrying about their family’s health and their own health,” said Eric Klein, M.D., chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute. “It’s no surprise that mental health rose to the top as a critical issue in this year’s survey.”

Has COVID-19 Affected Men’s Roles in the Home Along with Their Mental Health?

During the pandemic, roles and responsibilities in many households may have shifted. For example, some men took on more domestic chores and/or engaged in more quality time with their children.

“Many men are finding themselves in new and different roles as a result of this pandemic; for example, they are out of work or are working around the clock at home looking after kids with their partners all while worrying about their family’s health and their own health,” said Eric Klein, M.D., chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute. “It’s no surprise that mental health rose to the top as a critical issue in this year’s survey.”

Man holding basket of laundry, illustrating how more men took on household work during the pandemic.According to a study co-authored by academics at the University of Utah, Ball State University and the University of Texas, “the percentage of couples who share childcare relatively equally increased from 45% before the pandemic to 56% during the pandemic.”

The additional stress and isolation brought on by the pandemic may have a long-term 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 lack of a support system may be detrimental to men’s mental health. According to Dr. Lynn Bufka, APA’s senior director of practice transformation and quality, research has shown that men tend to have smaller social support networks than women.

“A lot of men’s social support and social connections just generally tend to come from work and their partners,” Dr. Bufka told CNBC.

Yet, this support system can be critical.

“One of the best predictors of being able to recover from depression is having a caring support system,” said Michael Thase, M.D., psychiatrist, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) told WCIA.

For some, the caring support system may have strengthened over the pandemic. Staying at home and spending more time with family has strengthened familial bonds. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University as part of the Making Caring Common Project found that “almost 70% of fathers across race, class, educational attainment, and political affiliation in the United States feel closer to their children during the coronavirus pandemic.”

“What we’re seeing here is that fathers, many of whom had previously been consumed by their work or absent from their households, have developed a new sense of closeness to their children during the pandemic,” said Rick Weissbourd, co-author of the Making Caring Common Project study.

Why Men are Less Likely to Seek Mental Health Advice

Man reaches out to help another man with mental health.Yet, even with caring support systems, some men still need professional help when dealing with mental health conditions. And, often, the first step in getting help is acknowledging you need help.

According to the APA website, psychologist Aaron Rochlen, PhD, of the University of Texas has noted that, “research shows that the men who need mental health services most are the least interested in getting help.” This may also be in part because the symptoms that men are exhibiting may look different than traditional depression, making their depression harder to recognize.

According to the APA website:

“Researchers and clinicians are coming to think that the traditional signs of depression (sadness, worthlessness, excessive guilt) may not represent many men’s experience of a depressive period. Although research is just beginning to support the idea of a “male-based depression,” it is possible that men may instead express their depression in terms of increases in fatigue, irritability and anger (sometimes abusive in nature), loss of interest in work or hobbies, and sleep disturbances. It has also been shown that men use more drugs and alcohol, perhaps to self-medicate; this can mask the signs of depression, making it harder to detect and treat effectively.”

At the same time, external forces may prevent men from sharing their mental health struggles. For example, in a previous GeneSight blog post, we wrote about how stigma and stereotyping may impact how and if men share their challenges.

“Men are often taught to suppress any expression of sadness during childhood,” Fred Rabinowitz, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at California’s University of Redlands, told Men’s Health.

In the Men’s Health article, Ronald Levant, Ed.D., cofounder of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity, says that instead of sharing their feelings and confronting their depression, many men “become angry or irritable, throw themselves into work, cut themselves off from other people, or even develop drinking problems to deal with it.”

“They see all of these behaviors as a socially acceptable way to get rid of bad feelings,” relayed Ronald Levant, in the Men’s Health article.

Black man doing yoga with young daughter, showing importance of reaching out when needing mental health help.“I know one too many men who have diagnosed mental health issues but do nothing about it because they think admitting it makes them weak,” writes Nicole Greene, deputy director, Office on Women’s Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “They don’t want to go to the pharmacy and pick up an antidepressant because they are afraid they will be judged. They don’t want to go to a therapist because they don’t want to share with a stranger. But if they don’t talk about it, it can be tough for friends or family members to know something is wrong.”

Talking about how they are feeling may also be a barrier that men have trouble getting over. For some, it may be difficult to acknowledge to themselves that they are struggling with their mental health. Then, it may be even harder to share those feelings with a loved one or a professional.

“Logically, you know that everyone gets down, has a problem from time to time, or finds it difficult to cope, but it often feels like you are the only person who can’t seem to handle it,” Alex MacLellan, a therapist and anxiety coach, reveals to Healthline. “You lie awake at night alone, wondering why you can’t be as in control as you should be and desperately trying not to let anyone else see how you are really doing.”

Yet, opening up may be the key to unlocking the door to mental healthiness. The singer Zayn Malik shared his anxiety struggles with US Weekly, and said that he started to feel better once he shared his mental health struggles:

“I feel like [coming forward about my anxiety struggles] was only a positive impact on everything that happened after it and people now have a better perspective on where I was coming from at the time and just an understanding that it wasn’t coming from necessarily being ungrateful, shall we say, or not aware of the opportunities that were in front of me, it was just me struggling with being able to actually be there. I’m definitely glad I got that off my chest, as anybody is when you feel like you’re keeping something from someone you have to speak about it and clear up the air.”

Men’s Mental Health Treatment

Button reading Find a ProviderIf someone shares their mental health struggles with you, the next step often is finding them mental health help. Regardless of gender, depression, anxiety, and other mental conditions can and should be treated. Yet, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that more females (70.5%) than males (56.5%) with serious mental illness received treatment for their conditions.

The Men’s Health article suggests two things to do to address mental health challenges: 1) seeing a healthcare professional and 2) finding someone to talk to.

Only healthcare professionals can make a mental health diagnosis. If you are not sure where to start, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor.

Treatment can come in many different forms – talk therapy (also called psychotherapy), medication, brain stimulation therapy, light therapy, alternative approaches (like acupuncture, meditation, etc.) or a combination of different treatments simultaneously.

The Mayo Clinic states that it’s important to learn healthy coping skills, such as setting “realistic goals” for treatment. Further, it recommends that men should “learn ways to manage stress, such as meditation and mindfulness, and develop problem-solving skills.”

Additionally, finding someone to talk to may be able to help you in emotional, behavioral, and spiritual ways. Scheduling time with a mental health professional (like a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, or a trained mental health therapist) may help you understand why you might be experiencing mental health issues. Not only can healthcare professionals help you get to the root cause, but they can also teach you different, more healthy ways to think about your life.

Additionally, talking to others who understand and empathize with you about what you are going through may help. Support groups can provide an outlet to share and learn from others who may be experiencing the same mental health condition.

“While it sounds intimidating, it can be helpful if you feel lonely, since you’ll be surrounded by other guys going through the same thing,” reports the article in Men’s Health.

4 multicultural men grasps each other’s wrists forming a square, showing how supporting each other through mental health challenges may help.

Most importantly, men should not delay in getting treatment for their mental health conditions. To delay doing so could result in negative consequences, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website:

“But without treatment, depression is unlikely to go away, and it may get worse. Untreated depression can make you and the people close to you miserable. It can cause problems in every aspect of your life, including your health, career, relationships and personal safety.
Depression, even if it’s severe, usually improves with medications or psychological counseling (psychotherapy) or both. If you or someone close to you thinks you may be depressed, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. It’s a sign of strength to ask for advice or seek help when you need it.”

Resources for Men Struggling with Mental Health

There are many resources available for men struggling with their mental health.

Online Resources

  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – NIMH offers a list of resources specifically for men, including a series of videos meant to educate the public on men and depression
  • National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities – the program, “Brother, You’re on My Mind,” offers information and resources for minority men who are experiencing mental health challenges
  • Mental Health America (MHA)– MHA offers a comprehensive list of resources for someone struggling with mental health
  • Suicide Prevention Resource Center – read the report about preventing suicide among middle-aged men

Support Groups

  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) – DBSA offers both local and online support groups.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – Find more about the kinds of support groups it offers here
  • MHA – Has resources to help find a support group.

If you’d like to learn more about depression and treatment, read these GeneSight blog posts:

Map showing GeneSight healthcare providers

This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.

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