The Richmond Foundation’s mental health helpline saw a significant increase in the amount of men reaching out to the helpline during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to pre-pandemic figures.
While men are generally less eager to contact mental health services, it appears the pandemic gave them a reason to reach out.
Eloise Shoobert, who forms part of Richmond’s psychological support services, spoke to Lovin Malta about her on the ground experience.
“We hear from very different types of people: people that had no previous mental health issues, many with COVID-19 anxiety. And then we got a lot of people that did have mental health difficulties in the past, which was causing them to deteriorate, especially in quarantine.”
Many couldn’t get the support they needed from their family, parents and friends, and now also missed out on the home-based visits from key workers due to the pandemic.
Shoobert thinks the increase of men reaching out to mental health services has to do with many of them losing their jobs, as they are considered the main breadwinner of the family.
“Many of them said they couldn’t provide for their family and felt worthless because of it. They felt like they had lost their role in the family, so at this point in time they had to reach out to someone.”
Statistically, males do underreport their feelings and emotions. “Many feel like they need to be strong, and they don’t like to show their feelings. COVID-19 was the last straw for them. They couldn’t take it any longer, and they had to reach out for support.”
The male callers often struggled with anxiety and depression, two symptoms that have proven to be common in these uncertain times. And COVID-19 increased the anxiety about the future: no one knows what is going to happen, the restrictions are changing often, and no one knows when it’s going to end.
Shoobert said men tend to leave it to a much later point in time, and reach out for help when they are in a more critical point. “I think a lot of it has to do with socialisation. They’re brought up with the idea that you’re a man and you don’t cry.”
And they are also less likely to have been taught the emotional literacy they need to understand their emotions. “They reach out at the point where they’re really unhappy and don’t know what they’re going to do anymore,” Shoobert said.
“They would call us, wondering “why am I feeling like this?” Sometimes they would start crying and not understand why. We would explain that this is okay, we are in a very difficult situation.”
And though many were at a loss of words for expressing their emotions, they did reach out – which is a great step. “I would tell them they have every right to feel this way,” Shoobert said, “but they would still question their own emotions.”
Something they often said was: “I don’t want my family to see me like this,” aiming to live up to the high standards that society has placed on them.
“They tend to find it a bit harder to explain themselves, and when they feel an emotion which they haven’t maybe felt before. We might need to educate them better,” she adds.
Those that are parents would also be concerned about their children, whose school suddenly shifted online. “Parents might underestimate the social aspect of school: not just learning, but interacting.”
Many little ones would find themselves demotivated, not being able to concentrate and not wanting to do their homework. “My teachers aren’t in contact with me and I feel like school has abandoned me in a way,” one child told Shoobert.
On the upside, the elderly happened to be the most relaxed out of all. Despite being the most vulnerable group regarding COVID-19, Shoobert noticed that those who called were mainly sad about the fact they couldn’t see their family.
“Of course it was anxiety-provoking, but out of all age groups, the elderly took it the best,” Shoobert said. “They have seen a lot in their lifetime, so they know that this too shall pass.”
Have you ever reached out to mental health services?