Men’s mental health has been disproportionately affected during COVID-19. Here, a mental health technician discusses stigma around seeking professional help and how to recognize the signs that someone is struggling.
The COVID-19 pandemic has unearthed a myriad of obstacles impacting daily life. From job loss and sickness to extended social isolation, mental health has taken a hit across the globe. Men’s mental health, in particular, has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic because of the stigma around seeking professional help.
“A lot of men hide their mental health struggles because of pride, shame and guilt,” says mental health technician Juan Escobedo, MHT, MS, “Where, in general, women tend to seek comfort in others and are open to seeking mental health treatment services, men internalize their feelings.”
Men’s Emotions During the Pandemic
Coping with intense emotions isn’t easy, which is why some men turn to violence and substance abuse when struggling with their mental health. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in things like alcohol consumption and domestic violence, which can show up when men aren’t seeking mental health treatment,” says Escobedo.
The pandemic has affected men’s mental health for many reasons, job loss being the most extreme. As Escobedo explains, “Many men feel obligated to provide for their family, so when they lose a job it comes with a lot of distress and anxiety. And if they’re hiding that stress instead of seeking help, it can have negative consequences.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, it is important to keep an eye out for signs like:
- Reduction in appetite
- Increased irritability or aggression
- Severe mood swings
- Change in sleep patterns
- Elevated anxiety
- Suicidal ideations
- Increased isolation
- Appearing to be quiet and withdrawn
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities and hobbies
- Difficulty keeping up with hygiene and self-care
“No matter what you’re struggling with, know that your fears, anxieties and emotions are real—and you don’t have to deal with them alone,” says Escobedo. “If you have a loved one dealing with mental health issues, have a genuine conversation. Make sure they know they are loved, and that you’re there to support them. Give them space to have an intimate, grounded discussion.”
Finding Support and Healthy Outlets
Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding mental health support, especially for those in a patriarchal role. “Men don’t want to be judged or ridiculed by friends or other males in their circle. They don’t want to be perceived as weak, so they often lie about seeking treatment if they do start—they’ll make up excuses for needing time off from work or missing plans with friends,” says Escobedo.
No one should be ashamed of seeking treatment or talking about their emotions with people they trust—especially men struggling with their mental health. Even outside of professional treatment, there are things men can do to manage their anxiety and other strong emotions. Escobedo recommends they find something they love to do to help them process emotions, like going to the gym or working on cars: “A hobby—especially something physical—can help you not only work out difficult emotions but also ‘get out of your head’ and provide a distraction to what is causing distress at work or home.”
Immersing themselves in family life and community involvement can also help men when it comes to managing mental health. “Men often do not seek support systems, but you would be surprised to know that many men in the same circle are dealing with similar emotions. Finding a commonality—like playing basketball together—can help open up the lines of communication between male friends,” says Escobedo.
Escobedo stresses the importance of validating everyone’s feelings, regardless of their gender identity. “If we respect and love our family members and loved ones, we can give them the opportunity and support to seek help and show vulnerability,” he says. “As men, we need to open ourselves up to express our emotions—and know that things will get better.”
For more information about behavioral health services at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, click here.