As a mental health doctor, I see first-hand the Covid-19 effects on the well-being of people but especially on men.
It’s predicted that we will see higher rates of most mental illnesses and we have already noticed that depression and anxiety disorders are particularly connected to lockdown. I am supporting people with worries around finances, furloughing, job losses as well as the fear of the virus itself and the effects it has on our health and those around us. These extra stressors, coupled with the lockdown removing our roles, our routines and our usual social support from friends & family, has come at a time when many professional support organisations have had to close. This can have a profound effect on our wellbeing.
In some cases, we cannot use our usual coping skills contributing to an increase in anxiety which we cannot control nor ultimately get away from. This is where suicidal thinking could occur. For us men this may be more profound, having the perception we are supposed to be the strong, practical, breadwinners. There is no surprise then that men are three times more likely to take their lives compared to women in the UK. This rate has increased more recently too.
So what can we do?
Firstly, it is important to take time over this. Don’t pressure yourself with more tasks, more plans and hard to achieve goals. Instead, invest some time in doing nothing but accessing your thoughts. We call it ‘Mindfulness’ as part of cognitive behavioural therapy, but being able to access, examine, and understand your thoughts will help you appreciate how you are feeling so you can begin to build foundations for making positive changes.
Now comes the hard bit for us men. You need to share this with others. Talk to others about your concerns, share worries, hopes, fears and triumphs. Time and again, what I hear from men is opening up is a sign of weakness. But tackling head-on what is hard, is the very definition of strength. Not only is this a great way of checking where you are in your mental well-being but it gives you the opportunity to see others that may be struggling and helping them too.
You could even save their life.
Once you have a better understanding you can start to plan. Having a written daily schedule can be helpful. Tasks that might feel too daunting could be spread out into bite-sized chunks. Calendar them but crucially alongside these add relaxing and rewarding activities too. Perhaps, you can develop a new skill. This gives back a measure of control to the situation; you can work towards something and enjoy your achievements. A good example could be exercise. It must be attainable, as an unreachable goal leads to failure and further negative emotions. Exercise has a proven effect on mood and provides that all-important headspace.
Use your planner to include others. Incorporating your partner, mates, or even strangers in need through volunteering, can have a positive effect. Sharing how we feel and what does or doesn’t work, builds healthy relationships at a time when these can be strained. Giving back to others is great for improving how we feel about ourselves whilst also helping us be more in control in that practical way that can be important to us men. It’s like fighting back but in a good way!
This can help as we progress through this difficult time, but we must be vigilant of mental illnesses that may need professional help and support. Seek help early: your GP, a helpline, support agencies or even work – you’ll be surprised how supportive they can be. If not, start with a loved one or even a mate now that we can see other a bit more. If that is too daunting there is support out there for us all in the links below. Check them out as there will always be support out there for you!
Anxiety UK - Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 10pm; Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm)
CALM - CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Men's Health Forum - 24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation - Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Mind - Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)
Rethink Mental Illness - Support and advice for people living with mental illness.
Phone: 0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm)
Samaritans - Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
SANE - Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers.
SANEline: 0300 304 7000 (daily, 4.30pm to 10.30pm) or Textcare: Comfort & care via text message, sent when the person needs it most: www.sane.org.uk/textcare