As COVID-19 continues to reorient our daily lives, new research is giving us a deeper look at how the pandemic is impacting men in the United States.
It’s part of the fifth annual MENtion It educational campaign from Cleveland Clinic that zeroes in on why men often shirk away from addressing concerns about their health.
The new online survey examined how the coronavirus outbreak has affected men mentally and physically as well as influenced their day-to-day health behaviors.
Cleveland Clinic’s survey team reached about 1,000 adult males, 18 years or older, across the nation.
They found that 77 percent of respondents said their stress levels increased during the pandemic, while 59 percent reported they felt isolated.
About 45 percent said their emotional and mental health declined during this difficult period.
The data also showed that this has been a more troubling period for adult males than past crises — with 59 percent saying COVID-19 had a greater negative impact on mental health than the 2008 economic recession.
Like past MENtion It surveys, these findings underscored just how rare it is for adult American men to seek medical and psychological health. The survey showed that 66 percent say they rarely even discuss the toll that COVID-19 has been taking on their mental health, while 48 percent say they put off seeing a doctor for non-COVID-19 health concerns.
It’s not all bad news. The results showed 45 percent feel healthier now than before the pandemic, while 28 percent are sleeping more and 22 percent are adding more exercise to their routines. About 19 percent say they’re eating healthier meals.
The survey shows a nuanced look at men in the United States — like all other demographic groups, they aren’t a monolith, with COVID-19 impacting them in varying degrees.
“Men have more difficulties with addressing their mental health and that can impact their physical health in turn,” said Dr. Petar Bajic, one of the doctors associated with the campaign and a urologist at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute. “I encourage all men to talk to their partners, talk to their support system.”
Dr. Michael Young, service chief of The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt, a psychiatric hospital in the Baltimore, Maryland, suburb of Towson, said the uncertainty of this era has had a significant impact on men’s mental health.
“The findings from the Cleveland Clinic survey that over three quarters of men are experiencing increased stress levels and nearly half are reporting that their mental health has worsened during the pandemic is consistent with what we are seeing in clinical practice,” said Young, who is not affiliated with this research.
Bajic said that when asked about their own health priorities and stressors, the men surveyed cited the economy and their family’s well-being ahead of their own personal health.
He explained that this is in many ways a cultural and societal issue — many men view themselves as what he called “the primary bread winner.” They feel that if their own health suffers, they might be concerned they won’t be able to fill that role in their family or community.
Young added that the COVID-19 era of working from home and sheltering in place has been disorienting for men in some of these traditional family roles.
“Many men are having difficulty adjusting to new and different roles such as increased caregiving responsibilities or helping their children adjust to remote learning while keeping up with online work, household chores, and other responsibilities,” Young said. “Additionally, the reduction of income and uncertainty surrounding investments and financial stability is playing a large part in increasing men’s stress levels.”
Young said that many men tend to derive the base of their own “self-esteem and sense of purpose from their careers and ability to provide financially for their families.” Job loss and the economic problems that can come from it can be a major stressor for men who might have been the top earners in their households before the pandemic.
The new norm of life away from others can also lead to a sense of isolation.
“Isolation from important aspects of social networks such as work colleagues, friends, and extended family have also been contributing to feelings of loneliness, which is a well-known factor that can contribute negatively to both mental and physical health,” Young added.
Both Bajic and Young stressed that it is a serious problem that many men avoid seeking medical attention and mental health resources.
“Anybody who knows men knows that men are not great about going to the doctor and that is something we’ve seen as part of the reason we started this survey and the MENntion It campaign,” Bajic added. “The goal is to understand men’s health behaviors in order to spread the word and understand that health is important and that it’s important to take care of themselves.”
Young said that unfortunately many men view having depression and anxiety as “a sign of weakness.” He added that despite advances in medical knowledge of mental illness, stigma still exists, particularly among American males.
“Cultural pressures for men to appear strong and not vulnerable also contribute to men seeking medical attention and mental health treatment less frequently than the population as a whole,” Young explained.
“It is important to shine a light on the shame and guilt that men may be experiencing. Reframing the narrative to emphasize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, may help more men be willing to ask for help when they need it,” he added.
When asked what resources are out there, Bajic told Healthline that telemedicine is an accessible and less intimidating way to engage safely with your health team if you are having a hard time during COVID-19.
Many men might not always fully disclose what is going on with their health when visiting their primary doctor, might shy away from seeking an in-person therapist, or could be wary of entering a medical facility during the pandemic. A phone or virtual appointment from home could be an easy way to begin to address health problems with a medical professional.
Bajic said most hospitals and healthcare centers have resources on their websites where you can find out how to schedule one of these appointments as well as how to schedule in-person visits with doctors and counselors if those are preferred.
He added that it is important to note that not everyone is being impacted by COVID-19 the same.
For instance, the survey was nearly split down the middle when it came to healthy behaviors — around half reported being less healthy and around half reported being healthier now. Bajic said a lot of different factors account for this. Some of these men might have been more inclined than others to begin with, to embrace physical activity and nutritious eating.
He said those who reported worse health habits were more likely to increase their alcohol consumption, for instance, and lean into more sedentary behavior.
“Again, it’s about how people deal with difficult times — it’s important for men to talk things through and use their support system, use resources that are available to them in terms of dealing with stress in a healthy way,” Bajic said.
“It has never been more essential for men who are suffering from a decline in mental health to seek help. We know that several million men are affected by depression in the United States every year and that suicide is among the leading causes of death among men. And the pandemic is increasing the incidence of mental health crises, which are already so prevalent, even further,” Young added.
He also stressed that if men aren’t willing to seek help then symptoms of anxiety and depression will continue, leading to increased drug and alcohol use “as a maladaptive coping strategy.”
“Alcohol and drug abuse, which are highly prevalent and exacerbated in settings of increased stress, can also contribute significantly to other leading causes of death among men such as heart disease and non-intentional injuries,” Young said. “Reaching out for help with problematic substance use is also essential, especially right now with the increased stress of the pandemic.”
To manage mental and physical health declines during this difficult time, Young said paying attention to a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, maintaining social ties with others even when in-person experiences are hard to find — hello, Zoom calls — and “prioritizing self-care” are all key.
“Spending time in the outdoors, developing hobbies, practicing meditation, and engaging in other wellness initiatives such yoga can also be very helpful. However, reaching out for help from others is often an essential step,” he added.
Young said that he wants men to know that “it is essential to get out the message that mental health conditions are medical problems with available, effective treatments, and there is hope.”
If your symptoms worsen or you experience more severe mental health symptoms such as thoughts of self-harm or suicide, seek help by either calling 911 or visit the closest emergency room to connect with mental health professionals, Young said.
He also suggested calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 for resources and support or reaching the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 “from anywhere in the United States to reach a live, trained crisis counselor.”
When it came to COVID-19 itself, the study showed that while 70 percent of men wear protective face masks in public, about 30 percent haven’t been using this method to stop the spread of the virus.
Only 51 percent of young men ages 18 to 34 avoid large groups of people, a stark comparison from the 67 percent of men 55 and older who are more adherent to social distancing.
Bajic said this is a product of the national representation of the survey. As is widely known, the United States is inconsistent in its approach to suppressing the virus, with some states seeing more spikes in the spread of COVID-19 than others. Bajic stressed that people of all kinds — men included — listen to public health guidelines, wear masks, and adhere to social distancing recommendations to protect themselves and others.
He added that it seemed to depend on life experience, too. Men who were either married or had children under the age of 18 were more likely to treat COVID-19 prevention more seriously.
Despite all of the stress and anxiety surrounding the pandemic, the survey did find that while 64 percent of respondents did not see an end to COVID-19 in the near future, 71 percent remained “optimistic about the future,” Bajic said.
“Even though many men are not sure when things will go back to what we considered ‘normal’ in the past, it’s still important to have a positive outlook and talk about feelings with your support system,” Bajic added. “It’s necessary to tell that support system how you are doing and what you need as time goes on.”
A survey that is part of the fifth MENtion It health campaign from Cleveland Clinic showed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted American adult males.
Some of the results: 77 percent of respondents said their stress levels increased during the pandemic, while 59 percent reported they felt isolated. About 45 percent said their emotional and mental health declined during this difficult period.
Experts say men typically avoid seeking treatment for their physical or mental health. They encourage men to reach out to their support systems. If seeing a doctor or a therapist is too uncomfortable at this time, seek one of the telemedicine options made more available during the pandemic as a way to move forward in addressing your health needs.