How is the pandemic affecting men? Experts weigh in

·3 min read

The pandemic has led to many men battling stress while trying to embody the role of “the protector or provider” and struggling to reach out for help, says Elissa Rodkey, a Crandall University psychology professor.

And these challenges aren’t being talked about as often as those being faced by women or children during the pandemic, she said, but it's important they also come to light and steps are taken to address them.

Alexithymia, a difficulty recognizing emotions, is much more common in men, said Rodkey.

Boys and girls being raised differently has meant, traditionally, we don’t always encourage displays of certain emotions in boys, she said. The result is “these men do not have a vocabulary to describe their inner life. They don’t understand what they are experiencing.”

Research indicates that men tend to be worse at seeking both mental and physical help, said Rodkey, which can have a negative impact on their well-being.

To address that issue, Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services launched a pilot program during the pandemic, said Dominic Boyd, a part-time social worker for Family Service of Eastern Nova Scotia and a former Sackville resident.

Men can call 211 to be connected to the Men’s Help Line and talk to a councillor for up to 30 minutes, or can be referred to a service that could last up to four sessions, he said.

The pandemic “has certainly put a lot of strain on men,” Boyd said, pointing to breadwinners who may have lost jobs, rotational workers who face strain over travelling and their family life, pressures in relationships, and loss of social support.

A lot of things happening right now may feel emasculating, agrees Rodkey. For some men, it may be losing their job, resulting in dependency on the government or a family member. Some may also feel an internal responsibility to appear strong on behalf of the household even if they're struggling, she said.

Male identity can also be tied to working out, sports, clubs or other activities wiped out by the pandemic, and they may be missing the male friendships, established through them, Rodkey said.

Men generally have a more difficult time forming friendships than women, have fewer friends and have interactions that are shorter in duration, said Crandall University sociologist Adam Stewart. Men often don’t have a support network of other men to rely on and workplaces often fill in some of the gaps, providing valuable interactions for men with other men, he said.

With many men working from home since March, many of those interactions have been lost, Stewart said.

And with all the changes that came with the pandemic, “mental distress has gone up,” said Boyd.

Boyd considers himself one of the lucky exceptions, because he is part of a group of men who meet once a month to talk about the challenges they are facing during the pandemic. The group previously met in person, in Sackville. It was a little weird to move online, he said, but he’s now found it helpful to talk about issues they're grappling with.

“Each person gets a chance to share with the group and there is time for reflection and feedback. We just share our thoughts or perspectives, but it’s helpful to hear things from different angles,” he said.

“I don’t think there are a lot of groups like this out there,” Boyd said, adding that it’s likely harder to start groups online if you didn’t have something established before.

Online support like this isn’t for everyone, he said, but if men try it and allow themselves to relax and trust, after a couple of meetings, they may find it helpful.

Clara Pasieka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal