Mental Health: Looking After Yourself As A Father

To mark World Mental Health Day on 10th October, DAD.info will be looking at a range of mental health issues that can affect fathers and families all this week, with a series of videos and articles. Here, Rachel Boyd, Information Manager for the U.K. mental health charity, Mind, talks about the specific mental health challenges of being a dad, and how to look after your own mental health and wellbeing...

Image: IngImage.Image: IngImage.

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health, and both can fluctuate over time. When things are going well you can feel confident, take part in the things you enjoy, function in the ways you need to. But if you’re feeling low or anxious, having negative thoughts, or feeling unable to take on normal day-to-day tasks, then you might be experiencing a mental health problem.

Being a dad brings many challenges, as well as lots of positives. You might be a new dad struggling with new responsibilities, or be finding the strains or family life overwhelming. You could be feeling anxious about your family’s wellbeing, worrying about money or work, or feeling like you don’t have time to look after your own wellbeing.

Mental health affects us all differently, but there can be differences in the men and women deal with mental health problems. Where women are more likely to feel comfortable discussing emotions with a solid network of friends and family, men are much more likely to rely solely on their partner – if they talk to anyone at all. This can raise the risk of being isolated, or having no outlet for negative feelings.

Our research shows that men aren’t as likely to talk to friends and family to unwind; instead, men may use exercise, watching TV or drinking alcohol as a way of dealing with their problems. 

Some of the attitudes in society about men, masculinity, and manly behaviour – such as the idea that ‘real men don’t cry’ – can prevent men from accessing the help they need. Mind research has shown that almost a third of men would be embarrassed about seeking help for a mental health problem and less than a quarter of men would visit their GP if they felt down for more than two weeks.

Men are also more likely to externalise their symptoms and are twice as likely to get angry or ‘act out’ when worried. This can make diagnosis more difficult as GPs are more often trained to spot symptoms of ‘acting in’, such as being emotional or tearful, which are more associated with women’s experiences.

The relationship between mental health and employment is particularly important for men. Mind research found that men define themselves much more by their profession than women, so redundancy can be more damaging to their mental health and one in seven men will develop depression within six months of losing their job.

Many men wait too long before seeing their GP, discounting low mood or anxiety as just day-to-day feelings. But it’s not the same as being ‘a bit shy’ or a 'bit low' and it’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you feel like the symptoms are interfering with your ability to do the things you normally would for more than a couple of weeks.

The ultimate consequence of not getting the help you need can be fatal. We lose over 6,000 people through suicide every year. That’s well over a hundred people a week – and three quarters of these are men. In fact, suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.

If you are worried about your mental health, the most important thing to do is to open up, perhaps by confiding in a close friend or family member. Lots of people find online forums like Mind’s peer-support site, Elefriends, really helpful, particularly if they are unable to confide in friends or don’t have strong social networks. 

If the problem continues to interfere with everyday life, it’s worth consulting a health professional, usually a GP to begin with, who will be able to outline different options for treatment. If you find yourself at crisis point or are considering suicide, it is important to act straight away by calling Samaritans (116 123) or going to A&E where you can be seen by a psychiatrist.

Mind’s top tips for looking after your mental health

1. Exercise

Exercise is good for your mind as well as your body. Regular exercise will lift your mood, help you sleep better, and give you more energy and it’s also proven to be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.

2. Eat well

Make sure you get a balanced and healthy diet including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, as these are proven to lift mood. Stimulants like sugar, caffeine and alcohol can make feelings of anxiety and stress worse, and leave you feeling lethargic. Eating lots of foods high in fat and carbohydrate can often cause blood sugar to crash, resulting in sluggishness. 

3. Get outside

Findings from the University of Essex show that getting into an outdoor space can improve mental health, boost self-esteem, improve physical health, and reduce social isolation. This could include gardening, an outdoor sport or even just a stroll in the park.

4. Sleep well

Not getting enough sleep can affect our mental wellbeing and quality of life. 

Electrical devices like TVs and smartphones stimulate the brain, making it harder to sleep, so try switching off and creating a calm space.

5. Online support 

Lots of people also find online forums helpful, particularly if they are unable to confide in friends or don’t have strong social networks. We would encourage those people to visit online peer support networks like Mind’s Elefriends website, where people can discuss their problems with others who are going through similar experiences and talk about potential solutions. Fathers can also share their experiences on DAD.info's Forum.

For information, support and advice please visit our website at mind.org.uk or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (lines are open Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm).

Watch a video by one of DAD.info's resident bloggers, Marc, which looks at his own experiences with mental health and suicide here

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Guest Monday, 16 October 2017