Dr Nicholas N Maraj
“Doc, I just doh know what to do. I doh have any money coming in, I can’t feed my family, the rent due, the bills piling up. I under plenty pressure. I feeling like I failing my family. I feeling like less than a man” – Tim (not his real name), a patient of mine in clinic says to me when I try to get down to the core issue of his problem. I feel his pain.
This seems to be one of the most recurring things I hear these days in my practice. I see a lot of people. Working class people. Economy-class people. Business-class people. This type of story is related by not less than 50% of the men I treat.
One of the core attributes of being a man is being able to provide for one’s family. That is multidimensional, but mostly takes the form of meeting their financial, physical and emotional needs. No man wants to have their family wanting for food, clothing or shelter.
Impact of COVID-19 pandemic
However, men’s ability to be breadwinners have been significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Lots of men have become unemployed or underemployed. Men have used up all their sick days, their no pay leave and then some have been let go by their employers. Worse hit are those who have actually had Covid-19 and have the “Long haul” Covid-19 symptoms of difficulty with their mental clarity. Furthermore, the price of goods and services has skyrocketed due to global supply chain issues. This dual effect has led to many, many men not being able to provide financially for their family. When a man is unable to meet this need, he feels like much less of a man. He feels he has failed as a man.
In many societies, men are taught that they need to be strong, self-sufficient, not show their emotions and worse yet, not talk about any of these things. Being fearful, depressed or anxious are signs of “weakness” that aren't compatible with being “real men”. We are sold these stereotypes by the male role models in Hollywood, in sports and in our local TV commercials. It is perpetuated by men and women alike (vis a vie “The strong silent type”). But many studies have linked this pattern of “toxic masculinity” to many adverse effects for men.
The data is undeniable. USA Statistics:
- Over six million men in America suffer yearly from Depression.
- More than four times as many men as women die by suicide.
- Approximately 20% of all men develop alcohol dependency during their lives.
- By not addressing the core reasons for this, we are failing our brothers and our fathers.
What are the signs to look for?
Many men admit to feeling depressed about their situation. Given society’s burden on men to not appear “weak”, many men subconsciously manifest this stress itself in many ways such as vague headaches, difficulties with concentrating, fatigue, back pain and sleeping difficulties to name a few. When the software of the person (the mind) is distressed, the symptoms are usually manifested in the hardware (the body). These symptoms when not addressed create a negative feedback loop which further compounds the underlying issue.
Some men also utilise maladapted coping mechanisms such as alcohol misuse (Health guidelines advocate for males to consume two or less alcoholic beverages a day). Excessive drinking however, is a dark abyss which perpetuates the problem as it damages your brain and liver, drains your limited funds and in the most unfortunate circumstances, can lead to violence. The sad part is, your problems are still there the day after, and may actually be worse from poor decisions made while intoxicated.
How to talk about it?
This is always a topic of discussion. Men generally do not like to appear inferior to other men. So, talking about these kinds of topics is typically taboo. Men need to be comfortable with someone to be able to talk about their mental health issues. We need to give men access to safe spaces to be able to vent their thoughts and emotions, to provide better adapted coping mechanisms and to enable better support systems. They need to be able to decompress without feeling judged, without feeling like less of a man, in the eyes of both men and women. We need to have more male role models (sportsmen, musicians) validating that it is ok, to NOT BE ok, that talking about it is OK and that getting support for it is OK.
Where can help be attained?
There are several places men can go, just to get someone to talk to.
There are two “Stress Relief Centres” recently opened during the pandemic, one in St Joseph, one in Chaguanas (numbers below), staffed with trained mental health professionals which cater to both men and women. They are absolutely free and no appointment is necessary.
COVID-19 has affected us all, from the well off to the less well off. It has taken a great toll on all of our mental health. Being a man now is harder than it has been for a long time. But with both men and women supporting each other, we can all live a little better and get out of this pandemic together.
The numbers for the mental health walk in clinics are as follows:
St Joseph : 397-7016
Chaguanas : 672-4357
About the Author
Dr Nicholas Maraj is Consultant Physician at the Department of Medicine, EWMSC. He is fellowship trained in Vascular and General Neurology from the University of Calgary, Canada. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh. Dr Maraj is the managing director of Synapse Medical Services Ltd with offices at St Augustine Private Hospital and Southern Medical Clinic. The office contact is 367-9368.