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COVID-19: Why Men Need Each Other Now More Than Ever

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Editor’s Note: This story was written by Dr. Zac Seidler, Global Director of Mental Health Training and Susan Todd, U.S. Director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Programs at men’s health charity, Movember.

As physical distancing restrictions and self-isolation are in effect across the country due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), millions were told they would not be able to return to work, either temporarily or permanently. As the crisis continues, it is becoming clearer what a broader socioeconomic ramification triggered by this pandemic is likely to be: a perfect storm for potentially devastating effects on men’s mental health and well-being.

Men rely heavily on their work to fulfill a sense of achievement and self-worth. While we may have hoped the trope of being a “provider” died with Don Draper from “Mad Men,” we know this expectation still rings true for many men.

We also know that men typically rely on “instrumental” support to look after friends. From grabbing a beer to playing or watching sports on the weekend, many men are more comfortable checking in with one another while they take part in an activity, compared to talking about concerns on the phone. Neither form of empathy is better than the other, yet what we are faced with now is the rapid change in a familiar way of life that saw men connecting and supporting each other.

Suicide in men is predicted by risk factors like unemployment, social isolation, financial distress and relationship breakdowns. Right now, a number of these factors are either already here or are on the horizon for a large number of men, while at the same time, their usual avenues of contact and connection are no longer easily accessible. What we are left with is a breeding ground for male despair. If we are to proactively intervene in reducing an already unacceptably high male suicide rate, we need an alternative and fast.

In the coming months, we need to emphasize men reaching out and supporting each other. Going about our day to day while we are physically distancing and not confronting the added challenges men face is no longer acceptable. Our traditional views of masculinity need to change and we need to adapt.

Statistics show that men have fewer close friends than women and that these numbers steeply drop-off as guys reach fatherhood and head into retirement. As dads are faced with the prospect of working from home instead of in an office, and older men can’t go out to their local coffee shop, bar or sporting event for some banter, we will have to innovate.

Men need to look after themselves and those around them, which means moving into action. Adapting requires finding a productive outlet for the inevitable anger and frustration at the changes in daily life, and the constant uncertainty. It involves putting energy into home renovations, cleaning or looking after the kids. It entails checking on those more vulnerable or those less fortunate in your community, to see where you can lend a hand. It necessitates accepting that while there might not be a solution for a problem just yet, there is still a way to utilize your strengths to build up those around you. Together, we can make the best of a really difficult situation.

Thanks to modern technology, we can also bring that “doing” style of support to physical distancing. We can build things together while on the phone or laptop, from puzzles to cabinets. We can take this opportunity to do things we have never done before, or even challenge a friend to a push-up contest. There are plenty of guys setting up a happy hour once a week to call up friends, have a beer and shoot the breeze. Others are connecting on social media and restoring a lost friendship.

Most importantly, men need to pick up the phone. There is no excuse for not calling your friend, particularly if he just lost his job. You can still check in with him, even though you probably can’t give him a job or loan. Don’t assume he wants to be left alone, or that he is better off not talking about it — expect the opposite. Instead of letting stubbornness, fear or discomfort hold you back, let him know you are there for him, and you will get through this together. You don’t have to have all the answers, or need to know what to say. Reaching out will go a long way, not only for him, but for yourself as well.

This is a time to rally together. Loneliness and true isolation can be painful and long-lasting, and camaraderie can be an antidote for uncertainty. Men, just make the call.

Staying socially connected is more important than ever. For tips on how, check out: movember.com/stayingconnected.

Image via Movember.

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