Editor, menshealthforum.org.uk & Author, Men’s Health (Haynes, 2020)
Everybody’s mental health has been challenged this past year and it’s not over. As we emerge from what we hope will be the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many questions, concerns and anxieties remain.
Even before the pandemic, men’s mental health was a cause for concern. There is a grave disparity in the high number of men who die from suicide and the low number of men who seek treatment for depression and other mental health challenges.
During the pandemic, children and young people have been disproportionately affected by lockdowns. There has also been a rise in youth unemployment, while home-schooling has hit boys and young men at school and university, especially from BAME backgrounds.
Particular groups of male-dominated workforces have suffered disproportionately in terms of income and some (taxi drivers, for example) have received little support from government to compensate. Often men are often in jobs that cannot easily be done from home with the result that many male-dominated workforces are also at greater risk from COVID-19.
So how do we move forward?
One thing is certain: we need to talk, something men have not always been encouraged to do. Since the end of last year, the Men’s Health Forum has been running men’s health champion training designed to help men do exactly this. We’re training up men (and women) from across the country, in all sorts of workplaces, organisations and groups in the skills needed to empower men to talk about their health. Talking is always a good first step, but it’s especially important when it comes to mental health.
This year for Men’s Health Week, we’re focusing in tightly on men, mental health and COVID-19. We want to engage with all men but especially younger men (and boys), men at work and men dealing with bereavement. The healthy conversation post-covid isn’t one that starts ‘when can I go to the pub or on holiday’. Those things are important, but we need to go deeper than that. How do we really feel about what we’ve just lived through? What bits would like to keep? How do things need to change? That’s the only conversation that will lead to something that makes us all feel better. We can’t back to the old ways, not as a society, not as individuals.
Westminster, the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Assembly will all be sitting during Men’s Health Week this year. Now is the time for them to take action on mental health. This is the ideal time to launch a men’s health strategy.