Why dads need to start owning their mental health. Now.

Kinderling News & Features

I am a firm believer that every adult human deserves a good counselor. No one gets to grow up without 'stuff'. Some of us have less stuff than others, but we all have it.

I think of 'stuff' as the sharp pointy parts that are hidden deep inside. It could be something your parents did when you were small, it could be a bully at high school or a particularly traumatic event in your early twenties.

Some of us know how to identify when our 'stuff' is a problem, and when we need to ask for help.

And some of us don’t.

I’m talking about men here.

I know it’s a generalisation, but in my experience, men find it really hard to ask for help. For themselves and for their relationship.

Many experts point to this inability to ask for help as one of the main contributors behind the alarming rate of male suicide in Australia (According to Lifeline, Australian men take their lives three times more than women).

But I want to talk about dads, and why they need to start owning their mental health.

Mums are consistently told that if women not ok, everything else will fall apart

Why are dads any different?

How many times are mums told that we need to put ourselves first, that we need to look after ourselves?

Beneath this message of self-care is the understanding that if we don’t do this, our mental and physical health will suffer. If we crumple our families crumple with us.

Women know that self-care isn’t just about having time with friends and getting our nails done. Though that can be part of it. Self-care is understanding our own internal world - being able to use an emotional barometer to check - am I okay?

I have never heard anyone say that if a dad is not okay, it affects his family.

But it absolutely does. And it’s time we started talking about it.

I’m a woman, and I’m talking – but is any man listening?

Maybe they’re listening, but they don’t understand what I’m saying.

Women are from Venus and men are from Mars. We’re different, I get it. We deal with things differently, we hear conversations differently.

Anthony Mackie is a Clinical Psychologist with the Centre for Perinatal Psychology in Sydney, he outlines the difference between the way men and women deal with these kinds of problems comes down to culture.

“I can remember very clearly from my own experiences as a child having to put every ounce of strength I had to stop myself from crying. That's just symbolic of the experiences that we have growing up. You don't cry, you don't be weak.

Listen to Anthony on Kinderling Conversation:

“There is this kind of stoic relationship to suffering and pain that men develop as part of growing up as in this culture. When they do feel vulnerable and when they do feel distressed these experiences don't compute. They don't they don't fit comfortably or sit comfortably with what it means to be a man and so men will feel reluctant often to share those kinds of experiences with other men.”

And this is where women come unstuck. We can see our husbands and partners are suffering but we don’t have the language to help them.

Women know how to help ourselves, but we don’t know how to help men

Most of us (women) have spent our lives sharing our thoughts and feeling with others. Friends, lovers, family. Many of us have learnt how to reach out when we need help, so many of us are finding it really difficult to know the best way to help the men we love.

How do we get men – so isolated and reluctant to ask for help – to get the support they need?

Anthony suggested the following points:

  • Ask your partner how you can best support them.
  • Be curious about their experience, trying to understand it rather than trying to change it for them.
  • Encourage them to speak about it with someone that they trust - this could be a GP, a friend, a family member. Or call one of the telephone support services listed below.
  • Provide them with information, and access to resources, such as the links at the bottom of this article.

When you are suffering emotionally, those around you are suffering too

This is particularly true if you are in an intimate relationship. With a partner, with your children.

I know, because when I’m feeling anxious I can be a real cow. The adrenalin and fear courses through my veins and into my heart. I get angry with myself for feeling this way and I snap at everyone. It’s not pleasant. But I’ve taken a lot of time to understand and work with my anxiety - so I can manage its sharper edges.

I tell my husband I’m sorry, I’m just feeling a bit anxious. I work to get better.

I started to really deal with my anxiety when the suffering became unbearable. I also wanted to deal with it because I knew I wasn’t being the mother I wanted to be, or the wife or friend.

I want to be clear here. I believe anyone with a mental health concern needs to think about themselves first, to be compassionate to themselves and get help to feel better.

But what I’m also saying is that if you are a dad, and you know you have a problem but are too scared to ask for help, you have to be prepared to take the first step. Because, we both know, you won’t be pushed.

Be brave. Be brave for yourself but be brave for your family too. 

Some resources for new dads

A vitally important resource for new dads is... other dads!  Friends with children can be a great source of support, ideas and advice.  To support networking and connection between dads Melbourne-based Perinatal Psychiatrast and father Dr Matthew Roberts has started 'Town Hall Dads'.   

SMS4dads provides new fathers with information and connections to online services through their mobile phones. 

Panda - provides information and support for dads, and offers a specialised perinatal anxiety and depression helpline - 1300 726 306

Dadvice - provides information and resources for new dads from BeyondBlue

Mensline - provides information and support for dads and has professional counsellors available 24hrs per day, seven days a week -  1300 78 99 78

Centre for Perinatal Pyschology  has some resources, and you can find a psychologist in your local area who has an interest in perinatal mental health.