Men’s Mental Health: Looking After Dad

Congratulations, you’re a dad! A joyful, exhilarating and often exhausting, role. In time for Father’s Day we look at one dad’s perspective in coping with the highs and lows of fatherhood, alongside professional listener and life coach Rob Jones, who outlines what coping strategies fathers should consider, and how important it is to keep talking.

While the mental health effects of motherhood is a topic discussed at great length, men’s paternal health, and the stress that comes with being a father, is something that is not often addressed. Dads can feel like a “spare part” when it comes to the labour and childbirth, and can continue to feel overlooked when it comes to opening up about how they are feeling, choosing to focus on the mental and physical needs of the mother and their child/children.

Birmingham charity, Help Harry Help Others, which was founded by Georgie Moseley in 2012, following the passing of her son Harry from an inoperable brain tumour, conducts a weekly support group called Men Matter, at the Drop In Cancer Support Centre. In the group sessions, Listener Rob Jones, guides men through discussions on topics that include anything from their health and family life, to banter on how their football teams did at the weekend. It is an informal environment where men can meet and it’s an opportunity for respite and to socialise regularly without any pressure or expectations.

Rob Jones, who has worked as a listener within various support groups for the last 10 years, says “Getting men to open up and talk more is the first step into making a change. Women are naturally better at voicing their concerns and feelings to others, so we need to try and encourage men to do the same. Being a father carries a huge amount of responsibility, and this alone can cause other anxieties to come to the forefront. Adding in the everyday pressures such as work, or financial stresses can put mental health at breaking point. A lot of men also still carry the old fashioned stigma of feeling that they should be the “provider” which piles on a huge amount of pressure that certainly doesn’t have to exist in today’s society. A lot of Dad’s question their role in the upbringing of their children too, and measure their worth against that of the mother. This can lead to them distancing themselves from their family and holding back from asking for help, or advice.”

Rob continues “Although the common denominator at the Help Harry Help Others Drop In Cancer Support Centre, Men Matter group is the impact cancer has had on their life, it is often the last thing we talk about. Once one person in a group starts opening up, it is amazing how it encourages the other men to do the same – just hearing somebody else is facing the same fears and worries as you is a huge relief, and is often the first step to feeling comfortable to open up.”

Gary Mullins-Downes is 40 years old and a father and step-father to two sons. In 2015 he was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer and in January 2016, the day before his son’s 4th birthday, he underwent life saving surgery. Gary has learnt to open up and talk more about his mental health and was even part of the initial discussions around setting up the Men Matter group at the charity.

“ Every Father has a unique set of circumstances that can affect their parental journey. For me it was being diagnosed with cancer, and the fact that I wasn’t able to pick up my son from the age of four. He wasn’t able to sit on me or play physically with me, which made me feel so useless and frustrated. While I know I’m very unlucky to have experienced such a serious health issue, my struggles around fatherhood aren’t just conducive to cancer. Fatherhood is rewarding and joyful, but it is hard and it tests the patience of even the most laid back person. It makes you re-evaluate yourself and your worth. Us men have a terrible sense of pride too, which can be so self-destructive and stops us admitting we need help. I have learnt to be vocal about how I am feeling. If I’m not having a good day, I will tell my wife or work colleagues. I make sure I talk about it. I channel any negative energy into doing something productive. I might ride my bike, or take on a task within the house or garden that requires attention. It refocuses my mind and at the end there is some sort of “reward” too.”

Rob Jones, Listener and Group Leader of the Men Matter group at Help Harry Help Others, shares eight positive steps to consider when tackling your mental health

Find something you enjoy  – finding an activity, or hobby you enjoy is one way you can be proactive in managing your mental health. If you are reading this and thinking “I don’t have any spare time to enjoy a hobby” think about the time you spend scrolling on your phone or sitting watching TV, and channel it into doing something else. It doesn’t have to be an extravagant activity. It could be something you can easily work into your daily routine like cycling to work, cooking and trying out recipes on your family for mealtimes, or even a simple jigsaw puzzle. Something that gives you pleasure and doesn’t create any stress.

Create pockets of time for yourself – you need time each day to recharge and give yourself breathing space, especially if your children are very young. Set aside time to do something you find relaxing and enjoyable. A long hot shower at the end of the day, getting into bed 30 minutes earlier to read a book, or taking the dog for a walk – something that will calm and distract your mind.

Consider the power of breathing – there are lots of different techniques that use breathing exercises to help manage stress, anxiety and depression. There are apps you can download onto your phone, YouTube videos you can watch and hundreds of websites outlining the benefits. Try researching a few and trying a number of different techniques out to see which one works best for you. Practice these and use them daily to help refocus your mind.

Set yourself goals – Setting yourself goals gives you something to work towards and makes you use your time more productively, which in turn brings a sense of purpose. Try to be specific and set a time to check in with yourself and your progress. Ask if you need support and what you need to do to meet your goal. Having more purpose and focus will help you feel more energised instead of getting burnout through boredom.

Keep moving – something as mundane as going for a short walk can help you manage stress. Take in your surroundings and make yourself notice the small things around you. It may sound cliche, but acknowledging nature can really help you feel present and grateful for the moment – which helps calm a busy mind.

Manage your expectations – one of the biggest issues around mental health is social media and the pressure that it puts on creating the “perfect life”, which of course doesn’t exist. Adjust your expectations of yourself and work towards what being content and happy means to you. Make a list of the things you love doing, no matter how simple or mundane – watching your children play, watching TV with your partner, mowing the lawn. What being happy means is very different from one person to the next. Once we realise that it removes the pressure of constant comparison and a thought you “should” be doing or achieving something.

Keep talking – Speak to a professional, look to a local support group, or create your own. The biggest challenge is to get more men talking. Find someone who you are close to and trust. Pain and stress decreases when we’re in the presence of someone we have an emotional connection with, so opening up and spending time with that person will be hugely helpful. 

Check in with Yourself – Making sure you ask yourself and acknowledge how you are feeling each day, can help manage your mental health. How you see and speak to yourself drastically affects how you go about your day-to-day life and process events that happen.

Don’t wait any longer to do something for YOU, and introduce changes that will help make life more manageable and fulfilling.

Help Harry Help Others
Instagram: @helpharryhelpotherscharity
Twitter: @harry_moseley
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