Men, specifically Black and Brown men, have an increased vulnerability to mental health challenges due to the pandemic. (Courtesy of unsplash)

By Caleigh Findley
Men’s Health Network

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 led to a substantial increase in mental health challenges. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that symptoms of anxiety and depression had increased over three-fold in their August 2020 report. 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. Some depressed men turn to substance abuse, and may continue to act out these dangerous behaviors for longer in the absence of their friends and family. Men are also almost four times more likely to successfully commit suicide than women.

Reports of the pandemic-induced mental health crises are alarming. This is particularly true for males as an at-risk population that can see such dire consequences come from isolation. 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 claimed an increase in substance use (13.3% of respondents) related to the pandemic. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, this came alongside reports of increased suicidality for 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. These findings point to negative mental health outcomes specific to the individual’s sex, race/ethnicity and environment that petition 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 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 explains 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 rise to unique public health concerns, especially for vulnerable at-risk populations. 

Early safety procedures took away the social support 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 exacerbates the challenging circumstances already taking place. Long-term disruption of these services could spell 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) that could significantly hinder their return to pre-pandemic life. CRPTSD can 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 to utilize these services and receive appropriate treatment.

This speaks to the larger issue of inadequate communication between men and the healthcare system. An issue for mental well-being certainly, but also a serious concern for physical health 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 morality rates for men age 65 and older are almost two times higher than for women. Even investigation of COVID-19 admissions saw a three-fold increase in ICU admissions for males, and a higher likelihood of death.  

The inequity in COVID-19 patient outcomes highlights a crucial fact— men live sicker. Hypertension, respiratory diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and substance use, among others, are more prevalent among men. All of these conditions arguably contribute to the physical and mental vulnerability of men 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.