Speaking out does not make you less of a man. Mental health difficulties can be experienced by anyone and talking to someone is the first step…
All names are fictitious but represent real cases seen.
Ricky a 42-year-old high flying advertising consultant presented to his GP who then referred him to be seen due to suicidal thoughts and plans. This was his first contact with the Community mental health team. Over the few weeks before his presentation, he had had to work remotely from home as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. He had been an active man who worked 9-5 6 days a week and had spent only 1 weekend day at home. He had a group of friends that he met with after work on Fridays and he had not missed this weekly socialising for several months.
Suddenly, he’s now at home all day every day. He must work from home with his partner and 3 children all within the same space. He feels out of place in his home as he hardly was at home for that long and to make matters worse, he is unable to meet up with his friends over drinks. He’s found himself and his partner often shout at each other as she now expects him to be more hands on with caregiving and home schooling the children. His home suddenly feels like a prison and the only way out for him will be to end it all. He began to stockpile Paracetamol and had planned a suitable date to take it all with alcohol when he had been found out by his partner.
Jack was a young man who had been known to Mental health services. He had a diagnosis of Schizophrenia and had been managed safely for several years. He was looking forward to his next appointment with his team when Covid-19 struck and then the restrictions were enforced. This meant that his support within the community could not be accessed. His outpatient appointment was first moved and then cancelled, and he was then offered a virtual appointment.
Jack felt isolated and lonely especially as his family lived 4 hours away and he could not see or travel to be with them. His mental health deteriorated rapidly, and he became increasingly paranoid and stopped eating or drinking. His neighbours had noticed a very bad stench coming from his apartment and had alerted the police as his blinds were never opened and he was hardly seen or heard even though he had not travelled. When he was eventually seen, his apartment was in a bad state, and he had stopped washing himself. He looked gaunt and had to be admitted into the hospital for treatment.
These 2 scenarios above are some of the examples of what happened to men during the Covid-19 pandemic last year. I have chosen these 2 to showcase what happened to 2 different men- one known to mental health services and the other without prior mental health issues.
Men are perceived as the stronger gender and people tend to think that because they carry it so well, they have no problems, but men also cry and even though their cries might not be the typical breaking down and sobbing through tears, they are humans and go through challenging situations too.
What the pandemic did to men was to expose their vulnerability to themselves and to their loved ones.
During the pandemic, several studies showed that a larger percentage of men were affected mentally and this in turn had a negative effect on their physical health. Most men reported that their stress levels increased, and this had a significant impact on their ability to sleep and rest fully. The stressors identified varied but top on the list was the fear of their financial standing as well as having to now stay at home within the same space as their spouses and children. As most men are the primary earners in their homes, they are usually out of the homes for several hours but found it restrictive when the pandemic hit. And even though some were allowed to work remotely from home, some men lost part of their earnings as businesses folded up and downsized.
A significant denominator in both scenarios above is isolation. Men were worst hit with the isolation that occurred during the pandemic and found it hard to trust people as they tend to lean more on old, tried and trusted associates. They also would rather meet face to face to catch up and let down their guards instead of doing this over the phone. Well with the pandemic, the restrictions isolated many people. Men found the sheltering and working from home lonely and difficult to adjust to. Feelings of loneliness is a well-known factor that can negatively affect both mental and physical health.
Not only was their mental health affected during the pandemic, but most men had their physical health greatly affected as they refused to seek medical advice for non-Covid related illness thereby worsening their poor mental health.
As most men prefer to be seen and not necessarily heard, it is important to know as a partner or spouse that vigilance is key and identifying a deviation from the norm in our men can be the difference between life and death. Suicidal rates increased massively during the pandemic and the gender that tend to complete suicide is the male gender. Partners should take note and seek help as Ricky’s partner did. The first point of contact always is the GP and confidentiality is guaranteed. It is essential that partners should still seek help even if they are not sure of what might be going on.
Another major learning point in the scenarios above is for people to reach out to friends and neighbours especially when they have not been seen. People were isolated because of the restrictions but sheltering and social distancing made it worse. Family, friends and neighbours should reach out just to check that all is well most especially when the person they are worried about already has mental health problems. A phone call or text might just be all that lets you know things are spiralling out of control.
For the men, it’s okay to speak out! Speaking out exposes your vulnerabilities but it also ensures you get the help that you require. Speaking out does not make you less of a man. Mental health difficulties can be experienced by anyone and talking to someone is the first step of ensuring it does not spiral out of control as you would be guided towards the help that you need.
Finally, there is no better time to bear one another’s burdens like now. As we celebrate Men’s Health Week, let us remember that through their strong exterior and their manly roles, they are humans and need us too. Even though the pandemic and its restrictions are being eased off; we still need to look out for the men in our lives as life begins to normalise on the outside, some men will still carry on their insides the scars they sustained when their mental health took a beating at the height of the pandemic.
By Dr Adeola Patrick @iamdradeola
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available.
Speak to Samaritans:
Helpline: 116 123 (free of charge from a landline or mobile)
24 hr helpline offering emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide