Ilford consultant and government BAME champion urges men to protect mental health

23 November 2020

The medical director of an Ilford hospital is urging men, especially those from BAME communities, to protect their mental health as the community fights Covid-19 this winter.Nurul Ahad

Nurul Ahad, who leads clinicians at Practice Plus Group Hospital, Ilford and who is part of the government’s BAME task force, said: “Men as a group often struggle with the more emotional side of relationships and in some cultures opening up can be even harder. This year, issues for BAME communities have been a real talking point, as these groups have been harder hit by the coronavirus.

“Here at our hospital in Ilford we are trying to lead the way in understanding and supporting colleagues and patients from diverse backgrounds by providing a visible platform to reach out for support and to discuss day to day challenges, not just at work but also challenges at home.

“For me one of the greatest areas of concern is the extent of mental health issues experienced by BAME men.”

2020 has been a challenging year for us all but, Mr Ahad says, as we come into the winter months and another lockdown, the nights can feel much longer. We may not have the opportunities we had in the summer and this can lead to low mood.

He said: “Whilst there isn’t a different sort of male depression, some symptoms are more common in men than women. These include sudden anger, irritability, risk taking and aggression. Alcohol and drug abuse are eight times higher in men, with incidents of depression and suicide 75% higher.

Nurul Ahad’s advice for strong mental health:

  • Never go it alone: understand the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the major causes of mental health among men, but there is support out there from groups including mental health charities such as Mind and CALM, as well as from traditional sources of support such as religious groups.
  • Go beyond the LIKE on social media – try and do something more meaningful with your mates, like getting involved in a community project, and reduce your social media usage.
  • Watch the drink – don’t go beyond the government recommended unit intake and if you think you, your friend or a man in your life is overdoing it, sit down and talk about it. Try and find solutions and discuss changes and work together to put them into practice.
  • Maintain connections – create opportunities to talk to friends and family even if it is by phone or Skype. Spending time with people we love can have a profoundly positive impact on our wellbeing.
  • Be mindful – take walks without listening to music: listen to the sounds and watch the movement around you. It might not feel like it now but there are still wonderful but simple things that lift the spirits.
  • Consider a vitamin D supplement or fortified foods. There is insufficient sun in England at this time of year and low vitamin D can lead to low mood.

A lot of social interactions tend to stop during the winter and traditional activities, such as going to football matches or the pub, are no longer open to us.

Mr Ahad said: “Men are great social animals but scratch the surface and it is evident that although seven in ten of us say our friends can rely on us, only 48 per cent say they rely on their friends.

“Worse, a Mental Health Foundation survey revealed almost one-third of men reported weakened relationships since the Covid-19 outbreak, with one in six men feeling lonely. Two and a half million men in the UK say they do not have a single friend who they could turn to in a crisis. Come on lads, it’s time to reconnect.”