The coronavirus pandemic and the effect it has had on peoples’ lives is undoubtedly here to stay. The “old normal” is no longer a plausible reality as public places have become increasingly unsafe. The workplace, an often dreaded but frequented spot, has had to make major adjustments to “business as usual,” especially with COVID-related lockdowns in many areas of the world. Companies have had to adapt to this new way of remote work, whether that meant sending desktop monitors to the homes of employees, mandating days off for mental health and wellbeing, or even overstepping the boundaries of traditional work hours. What initially seemed to be like a “mini vacation” has re-ignited the work-life balance debate.
Dr. Afshin Nasseri stresses the medical importance of maintaining a work-life balance and warns of what failure can entail. With chronic stress being one of the most common health issues borne out of such situations, it is essential for both companies and employees to understand what this often overlooked condition could lead to.
Physical consequences include hypertension, digestive trouble, chronic pain, and heart conditions, most of which can be prevented and maintained with a healthy lifestyle, nutritious diet, responsible monitoring, and regular exercise. The narrative of chronic stress changes entirely when it comes to mental health, especially for men — chronic stress has close links to depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Gender disparity in mental health
In his quest to tackle common issues in mental health, Dr. Afshin Nasseri focuses on gender disparity around depression and its manifestation in males ages 18-65.
One out of five men develop alcohol dependency in their lifetime, and men are also four times more likely to die of suicide than women.
Moreover, more than six million men live with depression each year.
Dr. Nasseri also identifies how social norms and cultural codes associating achievement, aggression, competitiveness and emotional isolation with perceived ideas of masculinity, contribute heavily towards persistent unaddressed depression for men globally.
Dr. Afshin Nasseri notes how such stereotypes have resulted in male depression going undetected because men are less likely to report sadness, poor sleep, and experience irritability and agitation when they are not well, while women are comparatively more likely to seek support.
Mental health in men
The most common mental health issues in men are depression, anxiety, or panic disorder among others. To identify if a person is dealing with such issues requires thorough medical assessment. The lifetime prevalence of depressive disorders in developed countries is about 20%. Women are affected twice as often as men.
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States ages of 15 to 44 years and a significant risk factor for suicide. The peak onset is in the fifth decade of life.
Dr. Nasseri notes that anxiety can be caused by anything from personal health, work, or social interactions. Anxiety symptoms include feeling restless or wound-up, being easily fatigued, facing difficulty concentrating, irritability, difficulty controlling feelings of worry, and insomnia/sleep problems.
On the other hand, panic attacks — which are defined as sudden periods of intense fear with rapid onset, are comparatively easier to catch. Dr. Nasseri notes that panic attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger. Symptoms include sensations of heart palpitations, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath/smothering/choking, feelings of impending doom and feelings of being out of control when a panic attack hits.
Once men consider seeking help, they generally go through a lengthy mental checklist before doing so. Dr. Nasseri explains that such questions typically include — “Is my problem normal? Is my problem central to who I am? Do I have approval to seek help? What will I face if I ask for help?” Elaborating on the last two, Dr. Afshin Nasseri delves into detail regarding why such questions usually arise. If other close figures, especially other men, are supportive, then the person will be more likely to seek medical help or attention. Generally, the largest obstacle in asking for help is fear of losing control — losing work, a job, friends, or family and/or being involuntarily committed.
For anyone living with mental health issues, admitting to yourself that you have a problem is often an even greater task than talking about it with anyone. Such hesitance stems from fear or not wanting to overburden others. The stereotypes of “Men don’t cry” or “men aren’t weak”, have often only compounded these problems further. However, continued activism over time has forced the conversation to the forefront and given men who suffer from the hose conditions a chance to fight the stigma.
During these unprecedented times, take the time to check in with yourself, your mood, your habits, and your wellbeing. To men who are feeling overburdened, overwhelmed, and exhausted right now — it is ok to reach out for help.
Please contact your physician if you feel as though you might need help and reach out to loved ones for support during this time.