The onset of the pandemic in 2020 led to a substantial increase in mental health challenges. In their August 2020 report, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the “prevalence of symptoms” of anxiety and depression were more than three times higher than they were a year before. Roughly 40% of respondents to their mental health survey claimed at least one adverse mental health condition in the past month.
Social isolation resulting from quarantine has caused unique mental health consequences for men. In the absence of friends and family, some depressed men have turned to substance abuse and other dangerous behaviors. Men are also almost four times more likely than women to commit suicide.
Reports of the pandemic-induced mental health crises are alarming. This is particularly true for males—an at-risk population in which the consequences of isolation are especially dire. Moreover, the extent to which quarantine may impact certain populations of men disproportionately due to stigma, social and work environments, and lack of healthcare resources gives cause for concern.
How Are Men Vulnerable to Poor Health in a Pandemic?
The 2020 CDC mental health report further documented an increase in substance use (13.3% of respondents) related to the pandemic. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, this came alongside reports of increased suicidality in males.
The same report found that men ages 18-24, minorities, unpaid caregivers, and essential workers were more likely to have seriously considered suicide in the past month. Both Hispanic and Black respondents experienced increased substance use and suicidal ideation compared to non-Hispanic Whites during quarantine. (However, White men are still 2.5 times more likely than Blacks and Hispanics to actually commit suicide, and the rate for American Indian men is even higher.) These findings point to negative mental health outcomes specific to the individual’s sex, race/ethnicity, and environment that highlight the significant need for community-level interventions, according to the report.
Male Minorities Devastated by COVID-19 Anxiety
Jean Bonhomme, MD, MPH, founder of The National Black Men’s Health Network, believes that we are fighting three separate pandemics.
In an expert panel discussion convened by Men’s Health Network (MHN) and funded in part by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, Bonhomme explained that there is the clinical impact of COVID, the economic and interpersonal effects of social distancing, and the secondary impact of increased harmful coping mechanisms. Each of these aspects give rises to unique public health concerns, especially for vulnerable at-risk populations.
Early safety procedures reduced or eliminated the social networks that many people of color rely on for support. According to the CDC, African Americans are experiencing more than twice the number of COVID infections, higher hospitalization rates, and more COVID-related deaths than Whites. The resulting financial and emotional stress to men and their families makes already-challenging circumstances worse. Long-term disruption of these services could lead to continued mental health deterioration for male minorities.
Sobering Reasons for the Striking Pandemic Health Disparity
Experts believe that some individuals may experience COVID-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CRPTSD) which could significantly hinder their return to pre-pandemic life. CRPTSD may include fear-induced aversion to workplaces and other public areas, as a consequence of prolonged social isolation. While the country anxiously awaits a return to normality, communities need to prioritize access to emotional first aid and access to mental health services.
Mental health challenges during the pandemic present a challenge for improving access and use of mental health services. Importantly, research also suggests that men are less likely than women to utilize these services and receive appropriate treatment.
This speaks to the larger issue of inadequate communication between men and the healthcare system. This I is certainly an issue for mental well-being, but it’s also a serious concern for physical health, especially during the coronavirus.
COVID-related deaths occur more often among men than women, despite a similar number of COVID-19 cases. One study revealed that mortality rates for men 65 and older are almost twice as high as for women. Investigation of COVID-19 admissions found that men are also three times as likely as women to be admitted to ICUs.
The inequity in COVID-19 patient outcomes highlights a crucial fact—men live sicker. Hypertension, respiratory diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and substance use, and many other conditions are more prevalent among men. All of these conditions have been found to increase men’s vulnerability to COVID-19.
The underlying health disparity widens further with the inclusion of ethnicity. African American men are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and lung cancer than their White counterparts.
Men of color are facing unprecedented challenges to their emotional and physical health. They will undoubtedly need culturally competent support strategies from both their community and physicians to aid in pandemic recovery.