Men’s mental health and COVID-19

  • Sunset image with text We will get through this together
  • Alex and Cate and book cover
    Alex and Cate.
Australian Medical Placements Health Education and Training
Dr Cate Howell
GP and Medical Education Consultant

COVID-19 has worsened mental health problems in Australia for men and women. Let’s focus on men’s mental health.

A man in his 40s who grew up on a farm, is made redundant from his city job during COVID-19. There is a family to support and mortgage to pay, and the stress is immense. He gets work during harvest time, but what next?

A young man in his 20s feels overwhelmed and the severe depression creeps back again. What hope is there for the future? He does not reach out and tragically, takes his own life.

Men tend to suffer in silence

What we know is that men have been suffering in silence about their mental health for too long. Suicide rates in men are three times higher than for women, and several thousand men die by suicide each year in Australia. It is time for change, especially with the short- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health.

Men experience a range of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety and substance-related issues. But men are still less likely than women to seek help. Barriers include the stigma that still exists about mental health issues, and men may perceive emotional issues as being ‘weak’ or vulnerable and as a result, feel shame.

Men are socialised to suppress emotion, and to be ‘strong’, no matter how they are feeling. And men seem to have greater difficulty in recognizing emotions than women. They are more likely to notice the physical symptoms of emotional distress before the emotional ones, so they may not realize that their mental health is suffering.

Mental health issues may reveal themselves in a number of ways, some not so obvious. These include physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep or tiredness; emotional symptoms such as low mood; cognitive symptoms such as poor concentration; and behavioural issues such as withdrawing socially, irritability or addictions.

Key mental health tools

For all of these reasons, two years ago, my 28-year-old  son, Alex, and I decided to research and write The Changing Man – A mental health guide. We wanted to be part of the change that is desperately needed, and even more given the impact of COVID-19.

We talk about 12 key tools to help identify and take action on any mental health issue being experienced. They are:

  1. Identify the key issue/s (eg. stress, grief, anxiety, addiction).
  2. Set some goals and take small steps towards them.
  3. See your doctor and have a check-up: This is vital as some underlying physical health issues can trigger mental health issues.
  4. Focus on your lifestyle (eg. healthy nutrition, moderate alcohol use, regular exercise, good quality sleep, regular relaxation).
  5. Gather information about your issue(s).
  6. Reach out to others (eg. a partner, mate, GP, counsellor …), and remember that reaching out is a sign of strength and courage.
  7. Consider counselling or talking therapies.
  8. Utilize your work and other meaningful activities.
  9. Consider complementary therapies.
  10. Work on prevention.
  11. Consider whether medication has a role (talk with your doctor regarding this).
  12. Practice and more practice!

It is important to develop a range of coping skills, which aid prevention and build resilience. Resilience is about adapting to stress and change in life, and it is very relevant in current times with COVID-19 and its effects, such as on employment or finances. Prevention also involves action and may include stress management; developing more optimistic thinking; putting energy into what is important or valued in life; investing in relationships; and building self-belief.

Sometimes we can do with some help

As Henry David Thoreau said, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”. Sometimes we can do with some help when we feel lost emotionally or in life. Support can be found from GPs or mental health professionals.

Phone support is available (Beyond Blue 1300224636, Mensline Australia 1300789978, Lifeline 131114, COVID19 Mental Health Support Line 1800632753, Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467), and in emergencies contact Mental Health Triage 131465, or Police/Ambulance on 000.

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