A young man stands on the street

Men's Health Week: Men & Covid-19

Men’s Health Week aims to improve the lives of men and boys, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This year, as we emerge from the biggest health crisis of the 21st century, the question is: where do we go from here?

Throughout the last year, its likely that there isn’t a single person whose life hasn’t been changed by the Coronavirus. Whether it’s losing a loved one, or learning to work from home, or adjusting to the lasting physical effects of the infectious disease, we have all been affected in some way, big or small.

Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, but research shows that men are more at risk of contracting coronavirus – there could be several reasons for this, ranging from genetics to lifestyle. And while Covid-19 primarily affects our physical functions, it has in turn left another kind of pandemic in its wake.

Coronavirus has taken its toll on the mental health of people the world over. A lot of this comes down to uncertainty: over jobs, homes, lives. And while young men and women have both been affected by the precarious nature of the year we have just endured, we know that historically, men are less likely to seek the help they need.  

According to research in 2019 by Mind, 43% of men admitted to regularly feeling worried or low, and while levels of common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are generally lower in men, it is thought that this “represents a considerable underestimation of true need”. It’s believed that men’s issues may manifest differently than women’s, and therefore symptoms often fly under the radar, unrecognised and undiagnosed.

So, men’s mental health has long been a cause for concern – and the disparity between the number of men who seek help and suicide in men is significant. Suicide is a complex issue, but the Samaritans found financial insecurity and unmanageable debt are strongly associated with an increased risk of suicide in men.

With this in mind, we must consider one group that has been one of the worst hit financially in the past year: youth unemployment is at an all-time high, with the 16-24 age group accounting for almost 60% of the total fall in employment between June and August 2020. With the stress of job loss and the repercussions of such mass unemployment applying immense pressure, it’s no surprise that the mental health of young people has suffered.

Here at Centrepoint, calls to our Helpline rose by 50% in the past year, and referrals to our health team have risen by 40%. Many of our young people cope with mental health issues – around 30% have formal diagnoses, but the actual number of those suffering with poor mental health is much higher.

Our research, along with the wealth of other studies on the pandemic, has shone a light on the emotional devastation that unemployment and destitution can cause. And this will have a lasting effect – not just on this generation, but the ones that follow, too.

Members of Centrepoint’s health team are always on hand for the young men (and women) in our services who are struggling with mental ill-health – no matter how complex the needs of the young person, we are able to provide the support they need to regain control of their lives and move on from homelessness. But more must be done by the government to ensure young people are supported as we emerge from this difficult period, ensuring their policies protect them from running out of money, food and housing.

Just because we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, that doesn’t mean we’re close enough to touch it yet. Until we get there (and even after we do), we must allow young men who are feeling stifled by this uncertain time to talk openly about how they’re feeling. Normalise these conversations, encourage them. And remember: it’s ok to take time to readjust.

You can find out more about young people and Covid job losses here.

You can read more about how to support men for Men's Health Week here.

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