COVID-19 has thrown most lives into disarray and uncertainty

COVID-19 has thrown most lives into disarray and uncertainty, but for some men, it can be hard to speak up or seek help if they feel overwhelmed or unhappy. “The COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on us all – job security, money concerns, fears for the health of loved ones far away and the feeling that the world is irrevocably changed,” says IMC GP, Dr Forrest. “Surveys show that men find it difficult to open up about mental health, however they are significantly more at risk of attempting suicide than women.”

What is depression?
It’s not uncommon to experience days of feeling blue – especially if you’re mourning your old way of life, the freedom of travel, or missing your friends and family back home. “This is normal,” says Dr Forrest. “Mood swings do happen but for some people, the mood just does not swing back up. The days turn into weeks or months, and can turn into a major depressive disorder, or clinical depression. Depression is a disease, caused by changes in chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. It’s not a choice, and it does not mean you are weak, bad or going crazy.”

Signs of depression:
Depressed mood most of the day, every day (feeling sad or empty, being tearful)
Loss of interest in activities that you normally enjoy
Changes in appetite
Changes in sleep patterns (either insomnia or sleeping more than usual)
Loss of energy or fatigue
Inappropriate feelings of guilt or worthlessness
Difficulty thinking or concentrating
Possibly recurrent thoughts about death and suicide

Stress in Singapore
Many men have been under greater stress during the pandemic, either under the fear of losing their job or increased hours. They might be finding it hard to juggle work responsibilities with childcare during extended work from home periods. “Stress is a common human emotion and it’s completely natural to experience stressful periods at certain points in our lives, but especially now,” says Dr Forrest. “Unfortunately stress is an expected part of life in Singapore, particularly for those working in executive roles with regular deadlines, long hours and high levels of responsibility.”

The stress response
Stress serves a protective function in our evolutionary history by mediating the ‘flight or fight’ response to protect us from danger. “Being stressed heightens our awareness and focus and prepares the body to respond to a threat,” says Dr Forrest. “What humans have not evolved very well to cope with is persistent stress. When we are exposed to even low-level stress on a day-to-day basis, problems can arise.”

Stress vs. anxiety
Anxiety and stress can seem similar, but they are not the same. “Anxiety frequently occurs in people who have been chronically stressed, however in many it can happen with no obvious trigger,” says Dr Forrest. “One of the key differences between stress and anxiety is that most people can clearly recognise why they feel stressed. In anxiety, the focus shifts away from the trigger/situation and onto the feelings and emotions being experienced. You can start to feel anxious about feeling anxious.”
Symptoms of anxiety
As it becomes more severe, anxiety can lead to physical symptoms:
Sleep problems
Restlessness, agitation, anger
Loss of appetite
Low mood/depression
Palpitations, dry mouth, nausea,
chest pains
Panic attacks

Anxiety related disorders
These disorders include the following:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common anxiety disorder, characterised by uncontrollable worrying. Sometimes people worry about bad things happening to them or their loved ones, and at other times they may not be able to identify any source of worry.
Panic disorder is a condition that causes panic attacks, which are moments of extreme fear accompanied by a pounding heart, shortness of breath and a fear of impending doom.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that causes flashbacks or anxiety as the result of a traumatic experience.
Social phobia is a condition that causes intense feelings of anxiety in situations that involve interacting with others.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition that causes repetitive thoughts and the compulsion to complete certain ritual actions.

When to seek help
If you’re experiencing issues in coping with feelings of stress and anxiety, help is available. “Come and speak to your GP and we can help you find ways to feel better,” says Dr Forrest. “This can be anything from exercise, meditation and relaxation techniques, referral for psychological therapy and occasionally medication. It is important to remember that most people will experience symptoms of anxiety at some point in their life and most will make a complete recovery. The key is recognising the problem, sharing your feelings and seeking help before things get worse.”

Dr Neil Forrest is a British trained GP based at IMC Camden. For appointments please visit: or call 6733 4440