In this unprecedented situation, it will be some time before we truly understand how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our nation’s long-term health. We do know, however, that this extensive economic downturn and increased physical isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and stress have created a perfect storm that threatens our mental health and well-being.
Unfortunately, this pandemic comes at a time when mental health is already an ongoing public health crisis. Three out of four people who die by suicide each year are men, and suicide remains the biggest killer of men under the age of 44.
Factors like unemployment, social isolation, financial distress, and the breaking down of relationships are strong predictors of male suicide. Many men rely heavily on their work to give them a sense of achievement and self-worth and unemployment is associated with lower self-esteem for men, which in turn is related to greater depressive symptoms.
Regardless of whether the image of men being “providers” is an outdated one, the expectation still rings true for many men. If they feel they aren’t living up to that expectation, they wrongly classify themselves as failures, which could lead to a downward spiral.
Staying in touch
As Movember-funded research has shown, men tend to have fewer social connections than women. The close friendships we do have often drift away following life’s big transition points, such as leaving home, becoming a father for the first time, and heading into retirement.
If we want to minimize the pandemic’s negative impact on our mental health, we need to understand that a key component to getting through a crisis is maintaining and strengthening our social connections.
Research has shown that social connections are a protective factor against poor mental health and suicide, and should be reinforced during stressful times. In practice, this means having deeper conversations and being prepared to open up when things get tough. It also means reaching out to check in on a friend or loved one who we suspect might be struggling, and taking the time to really listen, without judgement, to what they are saying.
Turning to the pros
While connecting with friends and loved ones is essential, it’s also important to recognize when support from a mental health expert is needed. We have seen an increase in adoption, utilization, and the number of ways to connect with mental health professionals from the privacy of our own devices.
At the same time, many insurance companies are expanding telehealth services and improving reimbursement for these services, even if they previously did not. These advancements and changes are welcome, particularly during this time of increasing need.
As part of Movember’s commitment to assisting men who need it and strengthening social connections for men, Movember is developing several online tools that range from providing guidance on how to have conversations with men, to supporting positive parenting.
As we navigate this pandemic and acknowledge the ongoing public health crisis that is poor mental health, we must collectively raise our voices and do what we can to help those in need. At Movember, we are dedicated to elevating the awareness of the crisis in men’s mental health and helping men today.
We must have more meaningful conversations, deepen our social connections with each other, and understand when we need to reach out to ask for or provide support. It’s only by working together and taking action that we can stop men from dying too young.
For more information, visit movember.com.