We continue our popular weekly HSE series during Covid-19 with the theme: ‘DIY Self-Care: Men’s Mental Health COVID-19’’.
The Psychology services for Galway, Mayo and Roscommon will be streamlining some key information for Boyletoday.com viewers each week based on the evidence of what works in similar circumstances. “Our themes will be around building resilience, coping with cocooning, managing relationships, caring for those with disabilities and other vulnerabilities and sharing supports for those who are ill or bereaved”.
This week HSE Psychologist, Eoin Ryan and colleagues have put together some information to help men to look after their mental health and wellbeing during this ongoing crisis.
Research has repeatedly found that men are much less likely to access supports available to them until they are at crisis point and that embarrassment or anxiety can be major obstacles for men to overcome before seeking help. Often a man’s struggles ‘hide in plain sight’ in the form of excessive alcohol usage to numb distress, avoiding difficulties through working lengthy hours, drug taking, gambling, watching pornography or by emotionally withdrawing, saying things like “I don’t want to talk about it”.
One outcome is thatmen in Ireland have poorer health outcomes and die, on average, about four years younger than women. Men have higher death rates than females for virtually all of the leading causes of death, with men being four times more likely to die by suicide compared to females.
Men don’t form a homogenous group. There are different demands and challenges affecting men at different stages in their lives. Some groups of men are particularly vulnerable, for example older men are much less likely to disclose their struggles and are at higher risk of suicide compared to younger men, while men from a Traveller background are another high risk group. Men as a whole are less likely to disclose common mental health problems such as stress and depression. According to the World Health Organization this is often due to stigma and a perceived need to stick to stereotypical ‘strong’ male roles. Until very recently, the ‘boys don’t cry’ attitude dominated. Men’s anxiety and distress were not seen as acceptable and men were expected to “get on with things” and “bottle things up” to such an extent that looking after their mental health was seen as a sign of weakness or failure. In recent years there has been huge efforts by a wide variety of individuals (e.g. Bressie) and community groups (Men’s Sheds, GAA etc) across the country to help normalise men’s experiences and encourage men to open up about how they are doing and emphasise the need to look after themselves.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought enormous changes and pressures to the fore throughout the population. Given the very high and sudden levels of unemployment and the loss of our usual social outlets this leads to increased levels of psychological distress. Between the existing health challenges faced by men and now Covid-19, it brings into sharp relief the need to be able to identify when men are struggling and what to do about it.
Recognising the struggle
The struggles we experience as men are often very normal responses to life events, especially in the context of Covid-19. Signs and symptoms of stress and depression can include: moodiness/irritability, loss of interest/pleasure in previously enjoyed activities, increased tiredness, change in sleep patterns, weight change, concentration difficulties, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, guilt, unexplained aches and pains, feeling anxious and worried, and having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself. Increased anger or use of alcohol, not eating healthily, and neglecting ourselves are other common signs of a need to take action.
Why don’t some men seek help when they need it?
Much research has found that negative attitudes towards help-seeking for our problems are underpinned by stigma, where there is a belief that the act of seeking help is threatening to our self-worth or as a weakness of character. Help seeking can sometimes be seen as going against the “male ideal” of independence, autonomy and self-reliance. Recent research found that men who reported embarrassment were almost seven times less likely to contact their GP than males who were not embarrassed. For a lot of men, having grown up in a society that doesn’t prize them talking about the personal challenges they face or acknowledging their struggles leads to a situation where men find it difficult to find the language to communicate their struggles. As a result, they may be more likely to talk about being tired, focus on physical ailments, or simply avoid or ignore their feelings.
How can men help themselves?
There is no one size fits all when it comes to what works best for any individual. A key finding from many studies is that flexibility and having a choice about how to respond to a situation is important for healthy coping. Many men don’t like being told what to do but the Men’s Health Forum in Ireland (www.mhfi.org) have a Man Manual that outlines the choices men have when it comes to dealing with their physical and mental health – (i) do nothing and ignore the signs; (ii) engage in some DIY self-care or (iii) find an expert to help them out.
Much of the attention is often on the negative ways some men cope with challenges in life. However, findings from research also highlight the many effective things men can do themselves to look after their well-being. Helpful strategies that men report include: setting goals and sticking at working towards those goals; focusing on practical solutions to problems, like engaging in physical activities and exercise to lift your mood; reframing challenging situations, often through humour; spending time with family and friends; spending time with a pet; joining a group like Men’s Shed; or volunteering in the local community. Doing something to help someone else increases the chances of doing something to look after yourself.
The starting point for looking after ourselves is to acknowledge the need to take care of ourselves – much like we take care of others or take care of our cars and homes. This involves giving ourselves the time out to reflect and accept what is happening and start to overcome any anxiety and embarrassment we might feel about doing this.
Giving yourself permission to talk is not a sign of weakness but more an act of deep bravery and courage. Use whatever language works for you, there is no “right” way – other than the strength to say to yourself and to others that perhaps “I’m not ok today” and that I might need to do something about it. Doing so can open up a world of supports.
Further information and supports
- Many supports can be contacted anonymously like the Samaritans (Call 116 123)
- For those who feel they need more help with their well-being there are a wide range of supports in the community and from HSE Psychology Services and the Mental Health Services.
- The HSE run website: www.yourmentalhealth.ie is a good starting point in trying to find supports in your area.
- Men’s Health Forum in Ireland www.mhfi.org is an information portal for men’s health issues, needs and work in Ireland.
- The Irish Men’s Sheds Association www.menssheds.ie provides details of locations of men’s sheds so you can find one closest to you.
- www.gov.ie/together – for lots of tips on looking after your health and wellbeing.
- www2.hse.ie/coronavirus or call HSE Live 1850 24 1850 (Monday – Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am-5pm) for up to date information on Covid-19