The importance of social connectedness for our overall health and wellbeing has been much more widely recognised in recent years. This is particularly true for men, who can be more likely to become lonely and isolated than women, especially as they reach their 40s and 50s.
Research has shown that social isolation can have far more negative consequences than simply feeling lonely or unfulfilled. For example, a recent study carried out in Australia identified a direct correlation between levels of social isolation and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
The study began in 2013 and involved 16,000 male participants between the ages of 10 and 55 who were asked to report on various aspects of their health at regular intervals. They were also asked about how much social support they felt able to draw on in their everyday lives.
The researchers found that those men who felt well connected with their communities, friends, families, or partners were more likely to enjoy an overall better quality of life and mental wellbeing than lonelier and more insular men.
Dr Brendan Quinn, Public Health Research Fellow in the Family, Society and Lifecourse Program at AIFS, was one of the lead authors of the report. He commented: “The research that we did […] shows that there’s a bidirectional relationship between depression and self-perceived social supports.”
He added: “So, having low self-perceived social support is associated with greater experience of depression and experience of depressive symptoms is also associated with low levels of social support. They have that longitudinal and bidirectional relationship with each other.”
Social isolation can also affect physical health, with some studies linking it to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, insomnia, and substance abuse. For men this can become a vicious circle, because poor physical health can impact on mood and self-esteem, making them less likely to seek out positive social connections.
One cause or result of social isolation that even the most confident of men can find difficult to discuss is erectile dysfunction (ED). This can lead to the breakdown of previously close and satisfying relationships with a partner, or make it very difficult to form new close relationships.
However, ED can often be a sign of more serious underlying health issues so it’s strongly recommended that men make the effort to address any problems they are experiencing in the bedroom. ED is a very treatable condition, with millions of men successfully using medication such as Viagra or Eroxon gel to help them regain a healthy sex life.
There is unfortunately still a sense of stigma and shame for some men in discussing their mental or physical health struggles. The culture of ‘toxic masculinity’ keeps many men silent and lonely when they would greatly benefit from reaching out to a partner, friend, or health professional.
If you are struggling to talk about ED or another health problem with a partner, pick a relaxed moment away from the bedroom to introduce the subject. There is no need to talk in detail about your emotions if that feels too difficult, but simply acknowledging the problem can bring a sense of relief and help you work out the best way forward.