The Psychological Effects of Covid-19: Are Men Suffering More than Women?

The Psychological Effects of Covid-19:

Are Men Suffering More than Women?

by Cóilín Ó Braonáin Ph.D.

men suffering more than women covid


What Are the Facts?

You may have wondered if the impact of Covid-19 has been different for men and for women.  It is clear, that women are suffering from Covid-19 infections more so than men: Fifty-seven percent of infections were in females at the time of writing (Irish Government, 2020, June 10th).  On the other hand, men are much more likely to die, if infected. 


Worldwide, men have been dying at up to twice the rate of women (McGreevy, 2020).  Which begs the question: Are men suffering more from the psychological effects of the emergency?  You might imagine, that given the higher level of physical threat, that a greater psychological impact on men would be the case.  Certainly, people in general are struggling (Rajkumer, 2020), and Irish people are reporting significantly increased prevalence of psychological distress, such as, depression, anxiety, and isolation/loneliness (Kelly, 2020).  However, the evidence for gender differences in stress level is less clear. 


For example, one possible gender difference may centre around employment.  Currently, both genders are well represented in the workforce, so unemployment after the crisis will be a mental health issue for all (Mental Health Ireland, 2020).  However, men can be more vulnerable to unemployment following an economic downturn because men are more likely to work in sectors typically affected by recession.  Whereas women are more likely to work in less affected areas such as education and healthcare (Henrique, 2020).  Having said that, at the time of writing, several large retail outlets have closed, which typically have a high level of female staff.  It is, perhaps, too early to know what the final employment impact of Covid-19 will be from a gender perspective.


Some would argue that women are at greater risk of Covid-19 psychological harm, because of being at home full-time, and due to an increase in domestic violence.  A rise of 25% in domestic violence rates in the UK has been reported (Jones & Isham, 2020).  Women also typically do more housework than men, and that burden will have increased due to the family being at home full-time, and the lack of supports such as childcare and the availability of grandparents exasperate that workload (Bacik, 2020).  Consequently, the overall stress levels of shutdown may affect women more so than men.


A poll conducted in mid-March also found ‘that a larger share of women compared to men worry that they or someone in their family will get sick from the coronavirus (68% vs. 56%, respectively) and worry about losing income due to a workplace closure or reduced hours because of COVID-19 (50% vs. 42%, respectively). A larger share of women compared to men also worry they would put themselves at risk of exposure to coronavirus because they can't afford to stay home and miss work (39% and 31%, respectively) (Nelson, 2020: para 3).  That poll suggests that while men have a greater risk from dying from the virus, women are more concerned about infection.  Another study recently conducted in the USA also found significantly more anxiety about Covid-19 in women (Fitzpatrick, Harris & Drawve, 2020). 


Another factor impacting on the psychological effects of Covid-19 is that of pre-existing mental health problems.  As would be expected, those with depression or anxiety report higher levels of concern.  When gender is also factored into pre-existing conditions, one study found that ‘women and nonbinary individuals as well as individuals with both pre-existing physical and mental health conditions had higher levels of depression and anxiety following the COVID-19 pandemic declaration’ (Alonzi, La Torre & Silverstein, 2020: p. 2).


So, What’s Going On?

Given that men are at greater risk from Covid-19, but are also less stressed, how do we account for this apparent contradiction? 


One possibility is that men may be less stressed overall, and that this difference also applies to Covid-19.  According to a study by the American Psychological


Society, ‘women are more likely than men (28 percent vs. 20 percent) to report having a great deal of stress (8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale)’, in general (2020, para. 2).  Also, men live typically for 3.5 years less than women in Ireland (CSO, 2017), a fact which can have many causes, one of which is that men drink and smoke more than women (Robson, 2015).  It may well be that men simple don’t worry about health as much as women, regardless of the consequences.


Counselling & Self-Care

However, for those men who are concerned and suffering from depression, or anxiety, counselling is very effective in treating those conditions.  Both the Health Service Executive and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK recommend Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of depression (HSE, 2020; NICE, 2015). CBT is also relatively short-term and therefore affordable for many men.  While in the past, men were more reluctant than women to seek counselling, that stigma has greatly reduced in recent times especially among younger people.  The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy found that 38% of men would seek counselling if depressed or anxious (IACP, 2019).  In this author’s experience the ratio of men presenting for counselling is about equal to the number of women undergoing therapy.  Twenty years ago, my clientele was only 20% male, so there has been a very significant change in that respect. 



Concern about Covid-19 may well not be a significant gender issue; instead, many factors such as pre-existing conditions, finance, job security and age may be the deciding issues, when measuring stress during the emergency.  However, regardless of gender, it is vital that those who could benefit from counselling should do so.  A reliable source of qualified therapists, listed by geographical area, may be found at



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