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Originally published on TOI Blogs

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to male mental health is the false notion that men who talk about their emotional struggles are somehow ‘less manly’, or ‘weaklings’. That is why so many men just don’t open up—for e.g. about how a bad relationship has left them hurting inside; how they feel unfocused at work, or find themselves questioning the need to stay alive. Instead of seeking help, their natural instinct is to tough it out.

Unfortunately, men who ignore red flags of mental illness and carry on with life as usual only increase their vulnerability to mental illness. In 2018, around 250 Indian men took their own lives per day—more than twice the number of women. This statistic alone should be reason enough for men to revisit the ‘blind spots’, like the ones below, that threaten their mental health.

1. Absorbing negativity 24×7: COVID has become the most-tracked illness in news history. And men, who comprise the majority of both Internet users and news consumers in India, should be concerned. Over 50% of respondents in a 2018 US survey found that constantly checking the news made them feel stressed. Many others experienced anxiety, fatigue and sleep loss. Why, then, do we keep binge-watching bad news? Scientists think humans have a ‘negativity bias’ which draws us to the news that shocks or scares us. However, as the above study demonstrates, this can wreck your emotional health.

2. Overwork: Recently, a pre- and post-COVID survey of Chinese doctors fighting the pandemic found significant declines in mood and increases in depression and anxiety. Now, not all of us are doctors or emergency personnel. But working excessively from home can also be a recipe for mental illness if you’re using work to ignore mental illness, or if it constantly exposes you to frustration and other negative emotions. During this lockdown, many people are working far longer hours than they normally would. Given that 1 in 7 Indians are already affected by mental disorders, the added stress of overwork can exacerbate risks in vulnerable individuals.

3. Ignoring warning signs: For men, the warning signs of mental disorders include irritability, trouble focusing, tiredness or listlessness, aches and pains, alcohol or drug abuse and more. (More symptoms can be found here.) You may also experience other physical symptoms such as sleeplessness and unexplained weight loss or gain. If you find yourself exhibiting any of these signs over a period of time, it may be time to get help.

4. Retreating into a shell: As men get older, their lives tend to focus around work, family and financial security. If they’re lucky, they may maintain older friendships, but new ones can be very hard to form. The lockdown has further complicated social connection. Reports say stress and panic attacks from Indian professionals working at home rose 35-40% in April over previous months, mainly due to social isolation. This underlines what experts have been saying for some time: chronic loneliness and mental illness are closely connected. What’s worse: isolation puts you at greater risk for things like alcohol abuse and suicide.

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