The impact of 2020 on young men’s mental health through lockdown
by mental health activist Connor Spratt
As part of The Positive Planner Instagram series Movember Mondays this November bringing talk about men's mental health to the fore, Ali joined mental health activist Connor Spratt to discuss his mental health journey, his recovery from an eating disorder and also the very current topic of young men’s mental health and lockdown. It was a fascinating discussion and you can catch the video here if you missed it.
In this blog, he talks in more detail about what it’s been like to experience the year 2020 as a young man and how lockdown has affected young people’s and specifically young men’s mental health.
Lessons learnt from the first lockdown
The initial March lockdown was scary for many. Life changed very unexpectedly: social isolation, only essential shops open, just one hour allowed outside daily. On November 5th another national lockdown started in the UK. With this in mind, it is worth reflecting on our experiences of the first lockdown and what it can teach us about handling this second lockdown.
Back in March, we started up the zoom parties and carried on with our work/studies in whatever capacity we could (if at all). This helped for a little while. As the weeks started to turn into months, a slow realisation dawned on us. Life was not going to go back to normal as quickly as we may have liked. Rather, we had to get used to what was deemed ‘a new normal’.
Many of us would be going into our first full-time jobs, moving away from home, maybe even going travelling for the first time. It goes without saying that the usual experience of this hasn’t exactly gone to plan, to say the least. This feeling is sadly creeping back again. Will this constant yo-yo-ing of social restrictions ever stop?
Sadly, when I’ve seen people talk about this, it’s always followed up with a “but we're still in a pandemic”. I do agree with this to some extent. It’s hard to justify your own suffering when everybody is in the same boat. This is especially so when other people are suffering dire consequences such as the loss of loved ones or unemployment. However, we are allowed to be upset about multiple things at the same time. We can be upset about the direction our lives changing whilst also being upset about how the virus is affecting others. With that being said, I want to share why I think many in their 20s are suffering and what we can do about it.
How those in their 20s are suffering
When something does not live up to what we expect, we suffer. To use one of my favourite drinks as an analogy, it’s like discovering your cup of tea is empty. You have made your cup and have been enjoying it doing whatever you’re doing. Suddenly, you go to take a sip and it's surprisingly all gone. There's that small feeling of disappointment, a sad surprise that the cup has run dry. I feel that many of the younger generations are experiencing this contrast in expectations. We’ve been enjoying, for the most part, a time in our lives discovering who we are, what we want to do. Now, that's all been put on hold.
Obviously, a sudden change in life plans is not the same as finishing a cup of tea unexpectedly. You can just go and make another cup of tea, problem solved. That would be my solution anyway. Sadly, this lockdown has taken away the kettle along with the teabags. Not only have they been taken away, we also don’t know when they’ll be back. With suggestions of further lockdowns and vague descriptions of how this will look and how long it will last, the future seems to be moving further and further away. A feeling of directionless has begun to manifest in the minds of the younger generation and I really can’t blame them.
What can we do?
I think that this feeling of directionless can be changed.
Firstly, and this especially applies to us men, we need to talk about what we are feeling. It’s ok to feel somewhat lost in the chaos that seems to be surrounding us. However, it’s not ok to bottle it up. Holding these feelings inside stops the conversation that lets us recognise that other people are feeling the same way that we are.
I personally struggled greatly at the beginning of lockdown. I loved keeping busy, throwing myself into different projects. When all of this ended, I fell into a bit of a mental rut. This was only compounded by the fact that whenever I looked online, everybody seemed to be ‘making the most’ out of lockdown. The 5K challenge runs, the infinite amounts of banana bread. If I only had this to go off, I would’ve believed everybody was doing fine and I was just being odd. That was never the case, but I only realised that when I spoke to others and saw that they were experiencing similar things. So, speak out!
How can you keep yourself happy?
Now that you’ve spoken out, assess what you need to do to keep yourself happy. If you’re like me and like to keep busy, a routine can be essential. You may be asking, what can I fill up my routine with? There’s nothing going on! An empty routine can feel boring, I agree. However, you don’t need to overcomplicate it! Schedule similar times for going to bed and waking up. After that think about what daily tasks you need to do. Make yourself good, nutritious food for the day? Do the form of exercise you enjoy most? What self-care activities do you do? Whatever it is, schedule it in!
Schedule in your self-care
Having a good planner I find is always a good start for this. If I don’t write it down, I just forget about what I need to do. If my day is seemingly empty, that’s when I begin to spiral into a negative mood. One of my recommendations would be The Positive Bullet Diary for this, it’s a great 12-month diary and journal that can help you start this planning especially if you haven’t done anything like it before.
The directionless I mentioned earlier can worsen. Without being kind to ourselves and doing what we need to do, directionless turns into hopelessness. However, recognise that although your direction might have changed, it has not gone. There are things you can do to keep yourself well. Take the time to think of what that means for you, hopefully, this blog has helped to inform some of that.
If you feel you'd like help or advice on any of the topics raised in this post, you can find links to different organisations on our Mental Health Links page here.