How to support men’s mental health during Covid-19

The evidence is indisputable: men over the age of 50 are more likely to get worse symptoms of Covid-19 – and to die from the virus – than women: twice as likely according to age-standardised figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The “why” is not so clear. While research shows that underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease (COPD) were important factors, more than a third of patients (35.1%) who died did not have underlying conditions. Somewhat bizarrely, baldness is now being highlighted as a predictor of severity but, unsurprisingly, medical professionals commenting on this in The Independent said “more evidence is needed to support this claim”. Meanwhile, it’s clear from separate ONS data that occupation is a factor. Lower skilled jobs that cannot be done from home and require more contact with others tend to be at higher risk.

There’s a huge amount for employers to consider as lockdown is eased. And perhaps more so where male employees are concerned. Of course, they’re not the only high-risk group, but it’s the group we’re focusing on for the purposes of this particular article.

Stress and anxiety build up

Various polls show that anxieties about returning to the workplace are high. And men don’t find it easy to talk when things aren’t right at the best of times. But in the current situation created by Covid-19 where we’re at home far more and social distancing as much as possible, the time we spend alone with ourselves inside our heads is doubly important. Stress and anxiety are normal: especially in the current circumstances. It’s what we do about it that matters.

Recognising the warning signs before it leads to harmful stress is key. These include:

  • Eating more or less than normal.
  • Mood swings.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feeling tense or anxious.
  • Finding it hard to concentrate and struggling with work.
  • Poor memory or forgetfulness.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.

Men’s Health Forum (MHF) provides useful advice in its ‘Beat stress and anger’ toolbox, a free download for Men’s Health Week (15 – 21 June). It suggests that anyone experiencing symptoms of stress – as highlighted above – should connect with others in a way that doesn’t have to be a big deal: while washing up, cleaning the car, playing a computer game. MHF advises men to find someone they can be honest with, even if it isn’t a friend or family member. It could be a GP, Occupational Health practitioner in the workplace or a stress counsellor.

Being honest is the real strength

In line with this, and as Men’s Health Week approaches, it’s worth looking at what you can do to put the best possible support mechanisms in place for your employees.

There is a lot of support freely available. Along with the toolbox downloads, the Men’s Health Forum website includes a whole section on how to “be strong without being silent”. It states: “Strength is often to be found in talking. Without words, too much stress can kill. Three quarters of suicides (75%) are male”.

Generali’s Wellbeing Communications Calendar also includes a section dedicated to Men’s Health Week, packed with content provided by its wellbeing partners. Employers can use this to help them communicate with line managers and employees, perhaps uploading the articles and webinars to their usual wellbeing portal.

Maximise existing services

Meanwhile, most companies probably have the tools to help already in place, in terms of Virtual GP services, stress audits, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and other routes to talking therapies, plus stress resilience training and methods to de-stigmatise mental health issues.

As highlighted by the Samaritans in its report Men, Suicide and Society “Confidential services which allow men to raise emotional issues spontaneously, rather than in a pre-planned way, are important and obviously emerging mobile phone and internet technologies have a part to play in this”.

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Many of the services highlighted above are available as part of Group Income Protection (IP). And accessible to all employees of a client company, and their families, not just those insured. Where there’s an identified wellbeing need that isn’t met by the services already available, help is also often available from Group IP providers. For example, Generali will look to part or fully fund wellbeing services for a client company as part of its Wellbeing Investment Matching initiative.

Clearly there’s a “it’s good to talk” message here for HR too, with reference to working closely with providers to ensure needs are met.