COVID-19’s impact on American men’s mental health

COVID-19 has not been kind to men. Not only have more men had more severe cases of the infection but more men have died from it than women. Now, a study from a Cleveland Clinic survey took a look at about 1,000 men, age 18 and older, to assess how they are coping with the crisis of COVID-19, mentally and physically. That’s because depression in men and women often affects each differently.   For men, it can be more difficult to recognize as men tend to resort to more unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with it.  They may exhibit depression by being more irritable, isolated or withdrawn.  Work hours may extend much longer than usual or they may resort to using alcohol as a method of managing it.

Study findings

What this survey revealed was that more than 75 percent of respondents stated that their stress levels increased during the pandemic and 59 percent reported feelings of isolation and a greater negative impact on the mental health than the 2008 recession. The toll of this viral pandemic has also affected about 45 percent of men who said their emotional and mental health declined since the lockdowns began back in March.

The pandemic has also influenced men’s day-to-day health behaviors which included the following:

  • 24 percent stated they had gained weight
  • 15 percent over the age of 21 had increased their alcohol consumption
  • 48 percent put off seeing a doctor for non-COVID-19 health issues
  • 66 percent stated they rarely discuss the toll of COVID-19 on their mental health

However, not all the news was bad as some of the men did find time to practice healthy habits such as:

  • 28 percent stated they were getting more sleep
  • 22 percent had increased exercise
  • 19 percent are eating healthier meals
  • 45 percent feel healthier now than before the pandemic
  • 70 percent of men reported wearing a face mask in public
  • 42 percent of men who are dads are taking special precautions such as more vigilant hand washing protecting their families and others

In the field of mental health, it’s well known that men struggle when it comes to talking about their feelings or mental status. By shutting down and refusing to discuss what’s going on inside of them, eventually this can have a negative impact on their physical health as well.

Much of the difficulties men have faced during this pandemic revolve around the economy and their family’s physical and financial well-being. Men have always viewed themselves as the ‘breadwinner’ and for men who have been furloughed or fired from their jobs since COVID-19, this can be extremely difficult for them in adjusting to new or different roles such as increased caregiving of children, household chores, and other responsibilities. Worries over income uncertainty and income stability can heavily weigh on men’s minds taking a toll and adding much stress. Losing a job often takes away men’s self-esteem and sense of purpose that can lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness.

When men remain silent and avoid talking about their circumstances, depression can set in quickly.  Even worse is the fact that depression in men often goes undiagnosed that can result in calamitous consequences when it is not treated.

Signs and symptoms of depression in men

The differences of depression in men and women are quite noticeable.  Women are more likely to show signs of depression with feelings of sadness, hopelessness or an empty feeling.  Women may also have extreme fatigue and difficulty sleeping.  A lot of these differences lie in various factors including brain chemistry, hormones and life experiences.

For men, signs of depression can include the following:

  • Escaping from the depression by spending more time at work or playing sports
  • Using alcohol or illegal drugs to cope
  • Showing controlling, violent, or abusive behavior
  • More irritability or inappropriate anger
  • Risky behavior

Men will most likely always downplay what is really bothering them.  They may not want to admit to themselves or anyone else that they are depressed.  By ignoring or masking their depression they may feel no one else will ever know the truth.  Men also have a more difficult time in discussing their feelings.  They like to be in control and feel that it is not manly to express emotions associated with depression.  By not getting a diagnosis, men may reason that they can avoid treatment and not have to deal with the stigma a depression diagnosis has.

Asking for help

Often the hardest part of treating depression in men is getting them to admit they have a problem.  Once they get past opening up and seeking help, it can be like unleashing a bad weight around their neck that kept them from ever being free of depression’s grip.

Treatment should be with either a doctor or mental health professional helping men learn healthy coping skills.  These skills can include:

  • Setting realistic goals and prioritizing tasks
  • Seeking emotional support from family and friends
  • Learns new ways to manage stress such as meditation and developing problem-solving skills
  • Not making life-changing decisions until the depression is under better control
  • Figuring out and finding activities he enjoys and that bring him satisfaction and fun
  • Leading a more healthy lifestyle by eating healthier, regular physical exercise and adequate sleep
  • Knowing where to turn to if he has suicidal thoughts:
  • Reaching out to someone they trust to talk about their feelings
  • Contacting a minister or someone in his faith community
  • Joining a men’s health group dealing with depression
  • Calling a suicide crisis center hotline
  • Discussing his thoughts of suicide with his doctor or mental health professional

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor

View posts by David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team. Learn more at Visit Dr. Samadi's blog at Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.

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