The global pandemic and its mandate for physical distancing has forced a conversation about the short- and long-term effects on our mental health. And we’d better talk about it — we are on the verge of a global mental health crisis. Experts explain that there is a high risk for anxiety, depression, and longer-term effects. I want to reinforce that experiencing depression, anxiety, high stress, etc., is an expected reaction. We are rapidly adapting to extreme conditions — conditions that run counter to what we humans need to live and heal and thrive in community.
And while I’m worried about the mental health of all vulnerable populations — those with pre-existing conditions, those at the margins, those who are especially isolated due to age or circumstance — I am spending a lot of time talking to men about how they are feeling and how their socialization is impacting their mental health outcomes.
Those of us who identify as men have received countless messages all our lives — overt and subtle — that being a man means “being in control.” We’ve been socialized to avoid showing vulnerability at all costs. We’ve been taught never to ask for help, offer help, or accept help. These “Man Box” traits are dangerous all the time, but especially now, during a global crisis.
Six million men suffer from depression each year, but male depression often goes undiagnosed. Men are more likely to say they are tired, stressed, or bored than to admit to feelings of sadness or worthlessness. Male suicide has been on the rise since 2000 and 3.5 times as many men die from suicide than women.
Knowing what’s ahead of us, I’m challenging male-identified folks to react differently — for the benefit of our own mental health — and for the boys and young men who are watching us.
We socialize our girls to value communication and sharing. But our boys are often taught to shun their feelings and reject their fears. That’s really dangerous in a time like this. Boys might be feeling the pressure to “man up” or that familiar phrase “boys don’t cry” might be echoing in their minds. Their silence might lead us to believe they are handling everything okay. But let’s get real: this is not normal for any of us. We are beautiful, strong, complex people and while we are resilient, we are not unaffected.
Here are some things we can do to take care of ourselves and each other.
1. Check in at least once a day with yourself. Reflect quietly for a few minutes. Identify your feelings, emotions, and physical state.
I have started walking every afternoon in my neighborhood. I adhere to all the social distancing requirements and use this time to articulate how I’m doing. Some days I’m stressed and overwhelmed. Some days I’m afraid for my family and my community. Some days I’m emotional and uncomfortable with all the uncertainty. I always seek gratitude, hope, and joy on my walks. I name things I’m grateful for in the midst of the chaos. And I look around for things that leave me feeling hopeful or bring joy into my life
2. Validate the feelings and experiences of your family members, friends, and community. We are all going through a lot and sometimes, being seen and heard is enough to make us feel less alone and scared. Here’s a helpful workbook for managing anxiety and fostering resilience.
3. Ask the boys and young men in your life how they are feeling. And don’t accept “I’m good” as their answer. They may actually be good, but take an extra step and find out what is making them feel good that day. Here’s a great article that looks at the subtle ways children’s’ anxiety might be showing up.
4. Ask for help if you need it. Accept help when it’s offered. And offer help when you think someone else could use it. Anyone can get free mental health counseling services by calling the COVID-19 Emotional Support Hotline at 1–844–863–9314.
I’m lifting you up. I’m sending you a lot of love. And all of us at A Call To Men are here for you. I invite you to share how you are coping in our #HealthyManhood Facebook group or tweet me @TonyPorterACTM. I’m so grateful for our community and all the ways we are supporting each other during this challenging time.