Currently 3 out of 4 UK suicides are male. This increasing statistic means that 18 men each day lose their lives, making men one of the most vulnerable populations to mental illness and suicide.
Furthermore, the most at risk age group is 45 years and under (ONS, 2018).
The recent events of the COVID pandemic have created an uncertain future, with the population having less control over aspects of their lives, and for many of us the much anticipated changes can be difficult for our mental health (Moreno, 2020).
Social norms have become compromised and lockdown restrictions have forced many into social isolation leading to loneliness, despair and fear of an uncertain future.
For those most resilient to mental health illness have found themselves challenged in ways that they have found most difficult.
For those vulnerable to mental illness, this has added additional pressure and has pushed many into suicidal ideation.
Suicide rates have increased, mental health facilities have been pushed to their breaking points and mental health is now being challenged on an insurmountable level (ONS, 2020).
It is commonly known that there are disparities between gender and ways of coping with stress, in that women typically feel more able to openly discuss their feelings.
Whereas, men have been found to internalise their feelings and be less likely to
reach out for support due to emotional distress (Holloway et al, 2018).
Moreover, this has in no-doubt contributed to high rates of male mental illness and suicide.
However, British culture has always found drinking alcohol, smoking and socialising to be part of male societal norms and ways in which many cope with daily stress (Lidden et al, 2017).
Pubs are typically a welcoming place that men feel safe and welcome in, and research has found that many use alcohol in a social environment as a coping strategy to de-stress and unwind.
Further research suggests that the consumption of alcohol influences them to externalise their emotional feelings rather than internalise, and for many this is displayed as ‘banter’ (drinkware, 2020).
However, with the lockdown restrictions this meant that these environments for men were not as accessible. Therefore, for many this significant coping strategy was taken away.
Many men reported that during the initial lockdown they felt afraid, lonely and under more pressure than ever before.
Many agreed that the uncertainty over their livelihoods, health and lack of control over their futures influenced feelings of despair (ONS, 2020).
They felt that even more so now that they could not live up to the expectancies placed on them by society to be strong, masculine and contain their emotion for fear of ‘looking weak’.
They suggested that they felt there was ‘no-escape’, and so many drank excessively in their own homes.
Furthermore, many became much more active on social media in the hope of social engagement as a source of connection with the outside world (Guardian, 2020).
However, both coping strategies come with real dangers in that if engaged with excessively can lead to addictions and downward spirals with both mental and physical health (NHS, 2020).
The lockdown period witnessed spikes of suicides, domestic violence incidents,
marital splits and droves of men reaching out for support.
The cumulative effects of male distress also impacts on loved ones, many reported feeling helpless and distressed, which in-turn has imposed also on their mental health (WHO, 2018).
However, when lockdown restrictions were lifted and typical practices of coping and
social norms could again be resumed, many men reported feeling relief in that they
could once again socialise in local pubs.
Many felt hopeful that some sense of normality was resuming, and they could try to move forwards.
However, as men are one of the most vulnerable populations to adverse experiences many have developed signs of post-traumatic stress.
This has manifested in symptoms such as;
Feelings of helplessness
Having no sense of control (Samaritans, 2020)
Combined with societal expectations for men to conceal emotion and instead ‘man up’, ‘be a man’ and with an attitude that ‘men don’t cry’, the implications to men can have catastrophic consequences.
To further this risk, a second lockdown on the Merseyside region has since been enforced, this witnesses the closure of all pubs and the ban of contact between households.
For many men this will limit their valuable social engagement and again see them in positions of helplessness.
The fears for men as a vulnerable population are more real now than ever.
A population who not only have pre-dispositions to vulnerabilities, but who are now being further exposed to restrictions, sanctions and the removal of a much-needed method of social support.
Therefore, is it intangible to think that 12 months from now those who have managed to survive may be faced with long term mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Furthermore, is it reasonable to wonder which is more dangerous to the male population; COVID or the effects of lockdown?