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Thursday, September 23 2021

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Man, mental health and the pandemic

With the rising number of coronavirus cases, many countries decided to contain the spread and safeguard its people by announcing a lockdown. India implemented a stringent lockdown from 21st March to 30th May. Many commercial entities and services were allowed to open in a phased manner afterwards with stringent policies and safe practices in place. However, the effects of this pandemic and subsequent lockdown cannot be viewed in isolation. And though it may have been necessary, the lockdown did create a domino effect of strong consequences. It has had an impact on the physical, emotional, social and psychological well-being of every human being.

There was a threefold increase in the number of people reporting significant depression and anxiety problems during the lockdown, Though statistically, the prevalence rates of depression and anxiety has been higher in women than men, the men were more likely to exhibit non-characteristic symptoms (e.g.: anger, engaging in high risk activities, substance use, difficulty concentrating, trouble experiencing positive emotions, headaches) leading to a misjudgement of their issues and concerns. Though the stressor has been same, men and women reacted differently due to multiple reasons: physical, physiological, social and psychological factors.

For men, life mostly revolves around their work. Right after education, most get into either a job or engage in business activity. They are the sole breadwinners in many households. The lockdown rendered many, either jobless or having to sustain severe pay cuts, resulting in profound financial distress. Looking after day to day expenses of the household, needs of the family, managing loans and medical payments with the reduced / delayed income became the cause of stress in many men. For those, who just had completed their education, there was a constant fear of whether they will get any job or not, given the rates of layoffs at major companies. Many men experienced acute stress from the financial insecurity they faced during this time.

The society also expects men to fit into the stereotypical behaviour (example: men don’t cry, men are strong and brave, men are good in maths, men don’t play with dolls, men earn for their family, men don’t do housework). Since childhood, men vicariously see these behaviours around them (through fathers, families, friends, cinema or music) and learn. This makes it difficult for them to comprehend and experience the other side to it thus, making it harder for them to deviate from the clichéd and conventional norms of society. Various studies have highlighted how cases of anxiety, depression and stress have almost tripled during this time. The current scenario has pulled down the sense of control that they previously felt. This along with lack of psycho-social education made it difficult for them to recognize and acknowledge that they are experiencing emotional and psychological issues that need care and attention. They didn’t understand what was going on with them, adding to the confusion and vulnerability.

Some factors that influence the decision to seek help

  • Societal expectations
  • Strong stigma towards mental health
  • Social conditioning
  • Media portrayal of men
  • Downplaying of emotions

So what can we do about this?

Bill Clinton has very rightly said about the plight of men, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

As a society, we still view approaching a counsellor or a psychologist as a sign of either weakness or personal failure. This coupled with societal expectations of how men ‘should’ respond reduces the rate of help-seeking behaviour in men. So, what can we do about this? Here are a few tips that can help men and the people around them.

  • Shared sorrow is half sorrow. Inner turmoil or personal struggles are not always visible. No one can handle the complexities of life alone. Men, don’t be afraid to showcase your other side. Share your personal struggles, tensions, feelings, and thoughts with your loved ones: friends/parents/spouse. Expression of thoughts & emotions are often cathartic in nature.
  • Education is power. A shift in attitude is only possible when people know more about it. Education empowers people by dispelling myths about mental health and thereby takes informed decisions. This is why this year the theme for Mental Health Day was all about ensuring greater investment by various agencies to warrant services and support for everyone.
  • Empathy is the antidote to shame. When any male figure tries to open up to you, listen with open ears and heart. Years of conditioning may make it tough for them to confide in someone. The conversation they have with you would probably act as a starting point for them to finally have open conversations about their emotional and mental health.

These unprecedented times have been scary and stressful. Normalizing mental health conversations, radical acceptance of the situation, better coping mechanisms, communication skills and strong social support is what is going to help build resilience in men. It’s going to take this and a lot more to bring about substantial change in society. Till then remember when things get tough and overwhelming, reach out for professional help.

“If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and our shortcomings instead of pretending they don’t exist, then maybe we’ll leave the world a better place than we found it.” – Russell Wilson

Priyanka Bantwal (enrichyourmind.in) is a Psychologist and Researcher. She specializes in elderly well-being, perinatal mental health, anxiety, depression, anger and stress management. An avid writer, she has been writing blogs and articles as a medium of generating mental health awareness and psycho-educating people.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Priyanka Bantwal

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