As we emerge from the pandemic there are many challenges that the government is currently grappling with. There is a degree of turbulence in international supply chains, a labour shortage, work to be done to help children and young people catch up with their education, and a backlog of operations caused by NHS being focused on Covid over the last two years.
Another emerging challenge relates to mental health. It is clear that two lockdowns have led to heightened anxiety, more loneliness, and more cases of depression. Doctors’ surgeries locally are currently under intense pressure and much of the new case load is due to mental health related issues.
We humans are social creatures. Friendships and the company of others are important. It is scientifically proven that spending quality time with loved ones and friends in a social setting has a considerable positive impact on our mental health. While we may not fully understand both the physical and economic impacts of lockdown for some time, it is clear that spending months confined to home and being unable to socialise and meet friends and family has put a strain on some. On a more optimistic note, there is also a lot of evidence that people are extremely resilient, schools report that most children have rebounded very quickly as they have returned to school and society has largely picked up where it left off. People are socialising again, going out for a drink with friends and have returned to work.
It has long been recognised that men are more likely to be affected by depression than women because they are less likely to discuss their worries, thoughts or concerns with others and can bottle up negative thoughts. Often fear is the most prohibitive factor in men not having these discussions; fear of judgement, fear of losing control or fear of being weak. This makes it even more important that as a society we work hard to address this inequality and cannot ignore the issue of male mental health.
In the UK, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women with men aged 40-49 having the highest suicide rates. Furthermore, only 36% of referrals for NHS psychological therapies are for men. Men are more likely to go missing, end up homeless, become dependent on alcohol or drugs and suffer from clinical depression. Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant and in control. While these aren’t inherently bad things, they can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up. Some research also suggests that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.
While this may paint a gloomy picture, it is important to highlight the important work that many charities such as MIND do to promote male mental health. One group, called Strong Men, does brilliant work supporting men that have suffered from a bereavement. There are also efforts of organisations such as Movemeber that has men all over the UK growing moustaches to raise awareness for men’s mental health and prostate cancer.
Tragically, we have recently seen a rise in suicide throughout the pandemic including here in Cornwall. Such incidents are often not predicted and can take friends and family by complete surprise. There are no easy answers to the complex factors that influence mental health but getting a focus on wellbeing and trying to nurture a culture that promotes it in our society is going to be increasingly important.