There remains little doubt that the Covid-19 virus has changed our lives forever; the way we socialise, work, and live. Switching on the TV every morning you are reminded, even bombarded with the latest number of cases and deaths in the UK, the populations most at risk of the virus, and the heroic but saddening stories of our health and social care workers who continue to care for all of us on the frontline.
I remember the day the country went into its first three weeks of lockdown, three weeks they said, although I think most of the country including myself knew it would be for much longer. However, none of us could have imagined the dramatic and continuing impact the virus would have on our daily lives. The day after lockdown was announced walking towards to my part-time social care job was like walking through a post-apocalyptic society; no sound, empty pathways, abandoned parks, and no cars on the road. Coming back from work, opening the door to my student house knowing that tomorrow would be no different, the same silence, the same abandonment of our old and continuation of the new normal.
Now over two months later I have witnessed how this virus has not only affected the physical health but also the mental health of our population. I have seen a substantial fluctuation in my own mental health; some days good whilst others are emotionally draining. This has been the case for many people I have spoken to throughout this pandemic who describe this fluctuation of emotions, unable to predict how they may feel from day to day.
The psychological health of the nation is taking a substantial hit during Covid-19 and this is likely to affect everyone. As Men’s Mental Health Week begins what are the specific risks to men’s mental health during this pandemic?
Risk 1) Reluctance to opening up
We have heard this narrative time and time again about males not speaking up about their psychological problems of fear that they will be deemed as “less of a man” or weak. During the pandemic fears of this nature are amplified with many males I have spoken to telling me that although they are struggling with their psychological wellbeing now is not the time to speak out, now is the time to be strong. This is extremely potent amongst males experiencing mental health problems that have traditionally been associated with females such as eating disorders adding an extra barrier to seeking support during this period. I have also heard from males working in health and social care who feel that to say they were struggling would distract attention from the main purpose of fighting Covid-19. This poses a huge risk to males as failure to seek support could lead to more acute symptoms developing.
My message: All males should be able to speak out even during a pandemic because speaking up is the strongest thing they can do. Failure to do so only leaves them more vulnerable to developing problematic symptoms. During this pandemic when I noticed my mental health struggling I spoke up, doing so has kept me healthy and happy during this period and has enabled me to be more productive in the ‘New Normal’.
Risk 2) Caring for others but not for yourself
The act of self-care is an important ingredient in maintaining good mental wellbeing, specifically during a health crisis of this magnitude. This can be small things like taking a long bath, going for a walk or even just sitting down and watching television.
Unfortunately, during this pandemic many males I have spoken to have felt that the focus should not be to care for themselves but others. This of course shows their kindness, but without taking some time for themselves makes them vulnerable to developing or seeing pre existing symptoms worsen.
My message: I get it, you feel that the focus of this pandemic and your role in it is to help others, and it is wonderful that you want to do that. I feel the same, but I quickly realised by not allowing myself any self-care, I was not helping anyone, and recognised that to help others I had to help myself.
By practicing self-care during this period, it has enabled me to help people more effectively and be more productive in my roles. If you are truly committed to helping others then start practicing self-care today!
Risk 3) Accessing appropriate care has become harder
The nature of the current crisis means that resources within our National Health Service and other agencies have been swiftly diverted towards tracking and treating people with Covid-19. This of course is understandable and should not surprise anyone. However, this means that mental healthcare is becoming harder to access or treatment is being limited to only those with the most acute symptoms.
This is increasingly concerning for males who historically have been more reluctant to access support due to increased stigma attached to men experiencing mental health problems. This means that more males who may want to or even attempt to seek referral to appropriate care for newly developed symptoms during the pandemic may decide it is not worth it, leading to a worsening of their symptoms. Furthermore, the most at-risk groups (males with pre-existing mental health conditions) may see a reduction in contact with their assigned mental health professional delaying their recovery or even seeing progress stagnate.
My message: We are experiencing an extremely turbulent moment, a moment that could have extremely negative consequences for our mental health. That is why it is so important to access care if you need to. However, the government must support services to adapt to the current situation enabling them to find ways to meet the need through innovative practices:
- Services should enable people already engaged in treatment to continue this via a safe and secure virtual network enabling them to continue their progress to recovery.
- An expansion of virtual preventative and promotional material should be made available to offer useful tips and advice for people experiencing milder symptoms.
If you are experiencing a mental health condition I would encourage you to stay focused on your goals for recovery and slowly work through them during this difficult time without being too hard on yourself.
My Main Message:
I understand how difficult Covid-19 has and continues to be for all of us including males experiencing symptoms of mental illness. I understand the anxiety many males will be feeling about the future, feelings of sadness or loneliness, but the message is simple, you are not alone and never will be during this period and beyond.
I would encourage all males experiencing psychological difficulties during this period to reach out, be kind to themselves and access support if they need it. Most importantly to those males with mental health problems and specifically eating disorders, keep believing in your ability to stay well, happy and continue moving towards recovery.