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Unpacking experience of men during the COVID-19 lockdown

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The lockdown is putting into question many of the assumptions our society has made about traditional family roles, especially that of men.

Traditionally, men have never really been the ones to stay confined at home for extended periods of time. If they had to, at least various live sports leagues and championships were compelling companions for some. The COVID-19 lockdown in many countries is a peculiar time, with Nigeria not being the exception. Everyone has to stay home, and Live Sports are suspended! I’ve seen an interesting image flying around social media: “Introverts check on your extrovert friends, they are not okay, they don’t know how this works”.

It may also be useful to add, “Everyone, check on your male, sport-loving friends, they are not okay!”

For Daniel, an avid Arsenal fan, the suspension of the English Premier League and many other leagues around the world has affected him ‘very badly’. Femi, a sales rep said, ‘Every day now feels the same, there are no banters or weekend to look forward to’.

‘Football has always been a source of fun, and stress relief for me away from work activities, the lockdown has made it even more difficult to realign’ mused Kingsley, a Kogi businessman.

A lot of the worries of men who shared their experience living at home were around their health, health of family members and risk of being infected by neighbours. To prevent this, it is interesting to see men becoming more proactive about increasing the hygiene conditions in their homes. Daniel is single but he lives in a flat with other neighbours. He said, “When the COVID-19 thing got serious, I started washing my hands immediately I come in, I even started cleaning my doorknobs with bleach and water.” Femi is a father of a three-year-old son who loves to play with his phone. “Because of this, I started to wipe my phone down with wipes and this alcohol sanitiser so he (Jay, his son) won’t get infected. If I have to go out, I come back through the back door and straight to change my clothes before Jay sees me and runs to me to carry him”.

A large concern among men seems to be the high level of uncertainty especially as regards to the economy of Nigeria and how it will ultimately affect their sources of livelihood. Femi from Lagos said that he is worried about the post COVID-19 crisis, “I am worried about the after-effects I am worried that there may be a socioeconomic crisis.”

Compounding men’s worries, there’s the threat to their source of living. Some companies have allegedly said that they would not pay staff during the lockdown period. Others have forced their staff to count the lockdown as their annual leave. Concerns about the uncertainty of what the prolongment of the lockdown would mean for their jobs as salary earners are heavy in the minds of many men as well. Businessmen in the informal sector and owners of small and medium scale enterprises seem to be the worst hit, especially when their source of livelihood depends on going out to their clientele for their trade. Men in this category face significant mental pressure of worrying how to provide for their families, as they are not earning a living.

The economic crisis coupled with necessary confinement has put an incredible strain on relationship between couples. These two ingredients may be contributing to another terrible outbreak; increased domestic violence. The economic crisis and self-quarantine mean that victims of domestic violence are locked up with abusers will be feeling increasingly caged and helpless. Worldwide, cases of abuse are spiking and the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) have reported increased cases of domestic violence with the COVID-19 lockdown. Project Alert Nigeria, an NGO that works to protect the rights and safety of girls and women also reports increased cases of domestic violence in Nigeria during this period. Restricted movements also mean that help for victims of domestic violence is not as extensive as it should be ideally. These organisations have to move their response and mediation strategies online to reduce the negative impact, as much as possible. On a national level, we see Nigerian men concerned about the possible increase in crime rate during or after the lockdown. Kayode, a Jos resident echoed these concerns when he said, “In the long run, the effects on the economy on the macro scale would be adverse. Worse still, on a micro scale, households and individuals would inevitably experience lack, and turn to their primal survival instincts, leading to social vices and a rise in crime rate.”

Clearly, the effect of the lockdown is a matter of perspective, some see it as an opportunity, to rest, spend some more time with their families. They are able to focus on getting postponed tasks done. Like Haliru, a student, shared. “I study more and meditate”.

With conferences, events, concerts, ceremonies and even sporting events including the 2020 Summer Olympics and Premier League, being cancelled or postponed, one thing is evident, without health, we have nothing. Several industries are on pause as the world battles the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
This is a very difficult period for everyone and in no way diminishes or undermines the experience of women. Feeling under pressure is a likely experience for everyone with responsibilities and who may be feeling unsure how the pandemic will take its toll incomes and sources of living. It is quite normal to feel this way in the current situation. In our recent blog, we shared simple tips to protect your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak.

Men generally seem to have poorer health seeking behaviours than women, as research has shown. This is not the time to take any symptoms of COVID-19 lightly. You are not immune to the virus. Men should understand that seeking healthcare for symptoms of COVID-19 is not a sign of weakness.

As many men face incredible pressure due to their stoic upbringing and their ascribed traditional breadwinner roles, a survival kit for men under pressure might be very useful. It is completely normal to feel powerless, a loss of control, worry about the virus, or feeling crowded at home – or isolated and have a hard time without social contacts. There will also be worry about intimate relationships and worry about personal health, family or financial and professional future.

Some helpful tips against the stress include:
• Accept what you cannot change
• Give yourself what you need including music, exercise etc.
• Share your thoughts and feelings. Your partner is not able to read your mind and wants to help so open up
• Acknowledge what is happening inside you and be aware of your boundaries
• Be aware of your warning signs and use your emergency planning in time

Also, as we #TakeResponsibility and prevent the spread of the virus, let’s be kind to each other. Let’s be kind to everyone around us who may not show it, but may be feeling stressed and panicking about what the future holds after the pandemic. Many are unsure of returning to their jobs after the pandemic and many have lost their sources of income already.

Do you or somebody you know need mental health support this period? Organisations like mentallyaware.org can help connect you to in-house counsellors for free counselling sessions. The MANI team has also dedicated a call line 08111680686 especially for those who are receiving treatment for COVID-19.

*Dara Ajala-Damisa and Atinuke Akande are Programme Managers at Nigeria Health Watch


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