As Father’s Day approaches, it’s an important time to remind ourselves to treat mental health as seriously as physical health. Men are often a casualty to gender stereotypes and role expectations: men are often considered the protector of their family, the strong one and the person who exerts confidence and independence. Men’s coping mechanisms are as result often completely different to those of a woman – where she will be quicker to show her emotions, a man is likely to be much slower. This has only encouraged an existing attitude that men should never admit their plights and therein lies an immense problem. The main issue is (for a sufferer) admitting that they are struggling with matters of the mind and letting their family in to allow them to help. It is particularly hard when society still expects men and fathers to be the strong, steady head of the family.
Suicide – Men are almost five times more likely to die by suicide in Ireland compared to women. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men between the ages of 15 to 34 years old, far more than road traffic accidents. Suicide has major repercussions for family members and friends, it can take years to recover from losing a loved one to suicide. Explaining suicide to young children in particular is a very difficult thing to do.
Affective defective hyper disorder – ADHD is usually undiagnosed and therefore it can play a part in breaking down relationships. Symptoms can range from having little attention to anything followed by having a hyper focus were the sufferer can only think about what they are doing and ignore everyone around them. Impulsiveness, disorganisation, lack of motivation and bad self-esteem are also signs of ADHD. Children will find it hard if their dad is suffering with ADHD as their parent will be unable to maintain a good relationship with them or others, their unsettled moods are a major factor and their inability to concentrate on their kids.
Bipolar disorder– Bipolar is a treatable mental health illness characterised by changes in mood, behaviour and energy. With bipolar, a person’s mood can alternate between pure highs and extreme lows which can last for hours, days or weeks. Men are less likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder due to their reluctance to see a general practitioner. Symptoms alter from feelings of sadness, usefulness, irritability to happiness, racing thoughts, sleep deprivation caused by the inability to switch off, increased productivity and in some cases a disregard for their own safety or that of others. Young children with their dad in the throes of a high might think their dad is happy however, the energy is not sustainable and when they come down, they have to contend with an epic turnaround from their once energetic selves.
Depression– Symptoms include loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, loss of appetite, anxiety, fatigue, loss of concentration and feelings of uselessness. Some sufferers self-medicate or turn to drugs or substances to mask their feelings and emotions, isolating themselves and pushing family away adding to a child’s confusion about their father’s illness.
Self-harm– Many men (while not fully comprehending that they are self-harming) are injuring themselves by punching walls or hitting things and generally harming themselves in any way possible. Men self-harm usually to cope with their feelings of depression or other problems.
Recognising a problem
Undiagnosed mental illness is a particular problem when the sufferer has a young family and the sufferer is resisting treatment or the idea of seeking help. For a partner the problem can be tiring as they fight to maintain their family home and relationships. It may take time for a sufferer’s partner to notice the signs and if their loved one is dismissing any offer of help it can add to the ordeal. However, it is imperative that a person you consider to be ill sees a doctor sooner rather than later. Then the real work begins…
Telling the kids
Explaining to young kids about their Daddy is never easy but for the family to move forward it must be discussed as a family. Children may not understand why their father is ill or why he is suffering from a form of mental illness. They will have many questions regarding the illnesses (that they probably have never heard of) and you should take the time to answer their queries as honestly as possible. The kids may blame themselves as they may resolve that if they behaved better or loved their daddy more that he wouldn’t be ill. Parents will have to work to reassure their children and while the road may be long ahead you will get through it as a family. Get help from support groups and charities, never feel alone while you deal with these issues and stand united in your battle again mental health problems.
Supports and help
There are many organisations who are only too happy to help and support families who are affected by mental health issues. Please visit the links below if you are struggling or are worried about a loved one.