Firstly, to all the dads and father figures who follow us and read our blogs, HAPPY FATHER’S DAY for last Sunday! We hope you had a great day and were spoiled and treated like kings for the day – or at least got a lovely homemade card that you will cherish forever.
In order to mark the value of Father’s Mental Health Day, which was held on Monday 20th June, our blog this week delves into this important topic, which sadly, is talked about much less often than it should be. Father’s Mental Health Day is a reminder to discuss and raise awareness of some of the mental health challenges faced by men, particularly those who are fathers and to dispel the stigma around this subject in order that more men can seek the help they need.
As we consider the topic of fathers and mental health today, we recognise that our children’s families are all different – whether that means having same-sex parents, single parents, or that perhaps there is not a ‘dad’ in the home. With this in mind, our blog aims to consider the larger topic of how mental health is addressed by, and for, males in our society, and in particular, how we might want this subject to be communicated to our children.
Why is Father’s Mental Health Day so significant?
Thanks to greater awareness and an increased openness around the subject of mental health, it is a subject that has become much less taboo; however, mental health is still far less talked about by men. In fact, a survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation showed that less than one in four, or 24%, of men who felt high levels of stress discussed it with a friend or family member.
Males might feel less likely to speak out for a number of reasons, including:
- Feeling pressure from society’s expectations and their traditional gender roles
- Feeling less able to recognise the symptoms of a mental health difficulty
- Relying on unhelpful, or harmful, ways of dealing with stress or difficult life events
- Feeling like a ‘failure’ if they reach out for support
Perhaps even more significant, are the figures from the Local Government Association which found that “boys aged 6 to 10 years were more likely to have a probable mental disorder than girls (nearly double) but in 17 to 23-year-olds, this pattern was reversed, with rates higher in young women than young men. There was a less significant difference in 11-16-year-olds.”
These are startling figures and suggest that not only are boys equally likely to face mental health disorders compared to girls but that the likelihood is increased in boys of a younger age group. Clearly then, it is an issue we need to tackle early.
How might we as parents influence boys’ perception of mental health?
There is no denying the fact that our children watch us far more than we often realise, and in turn, our behaviours and attitudes influence their own. The value of boys hearing and seeing positive conversations around the subject of male mental health, having positive role models, and nurturing an environment where boys and men can talk openly about their feelings and emotions is something not to be underestimated.
From a young age, media and society portray men as needing to be ‘strong,’ ‘capable,’ ‘successful’ and often void of emotion. Consider powerful figures in film and television, superhero icons, and how typically masculine toys and games are marketed in order to appeal to boys and this image. Not only is this male stereotype a huge expectation to live up to, but it is far from realistic – and our young boys and teens need to know this!
Furthermore, our children are continually looking to us as parents or caregivers for love, safety, and security, and to learn healthy boundaries and expectations. When we offer children our love, affection, comfort, and acceptance, we are, in turn, laying the foundations for good mental health. After all, “warm attachment relationships and play between children and their fathers can have a huge impact on self-esteem, social competence, and (the ability to manage) adversity.” Khan, 2017.*
So, why did this male stereotype evolve?
We can trace this ‘strong’ male stereotype back a few million years in fact! In our work with children and parents we explain the difference between the workings of the primitive and intellectual mind:
- Our primitive mind hasn’t evolved since caveman times. In those times, the primitive mind’s role was to protect us and keep us safe. Our ‘caveman’ brains were set up for women to procreate and nurture and men to protect and provide.
- This part of the brain still exists within us today. Whilst we have evolved over millions of years, this reptilian brain that exists for our survival dominates much of our thought patterns, particularly during times of stress. This, coupled with huge pressures that society can pile on, can lead to unhealthy behaviours in an attempt to try and maintain the ‘strong male’ image that males often feel they need to live up to.
- In our therapy sessions we support our children (and parents) to develop more positive actions, interactions, and positive thoughts in their daily activities. These positive intentions support us in creating a constant source of serotonin (one of the feel-good chemicals), which enables us to gain greater control of our intellectual mind (where we make proper assessments, problem-solve, and develop feelings of positivity). All of this supports us in developing and maintaining good mental health.
Thankfully, society is gradually changing and our intellectual minds have developed and evolved. With this shift, we have seen a change in the role of fathers and we are beginning to recognise and value the nurturing role that fathers play in our children’s lives – whether as a dad, a granddad, uncle, or another male role model.
Not only are dads now more involved in supporting their children and their development but we recognise the support they give to their partners with the mental health challenges that they may face. We know that it can be difficult to admit to our mental health challenges but inevitably there are times when serotonin drops, when challenges become greater and perhaps, we find ourselves struggling with our mental health. Whether it be depression, anxiety, lack of self-esteem, or self-confidence – mental health difficulties are something that we have all faced to a greater or lesser degree at some point in our lives.
As we have seen, our children, whether we are mum or dad, step-parent, or grandparent (whichever role we take as caregivers to our children) look to us as role models and they notice how we respond to challenges in our lives. What do we want them to see? We want them to know that it’s ok, that we all struggle sometimes, and that it’s good to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength when we know that we need help and support.
So, dads (parents, grandparents, carers) – let’s show our children how we look after ourselves and our mental health by:
- Saying how you feel. Whilst this doesn’t mean we should share the mental load of our worries with our children, it is important to notice and express how you feel. When we name feelings, we help our children to know that it’s okay to have these feelings and they don’t need to hide from them or feel overwhelmed.
- Planning positive interactions. Book time to see friends or family, and share with them if you are struggling with your mental health. Not only will you be increasing your serotonin (and your ability to feel better) but you are demonstrating to your children the importance of friendships and positive relationships. Quite simply, it’s good to talk!
- Taking positive action. Ask for help if you feel you need it. We all need help from time to time, whether that’s talking to a friend, making an appointment to see your GP, or meeting with a therapist. If we allow this to be seen as a positive step then our children will be encouraged to ask for help when they need it.
- Looking for the good moments in your day (no matter how small). Share these good moments as a family. Even in the difficult times and difficult days, there are good moments. When we share the good things, even though we are struggling, we are supporting our children in recognising the good things in their day, whilst still allowing them to have challenges and difficult times. As we say here at The Youth Fairy, not every day is good, but there is something good in every day!
- Demonstrating the value of checking in with others. Start those conversations that might feel difficult, and check-in with friends, family, your partner, or your children. In opening the conversation, we are letting our children know that they can talk to us and that it’s something that we are interested in and care about – it’s important. If you find that the conversation begins to open up and they start to share some challenges, try not to panic (it means you’ve done a great job and they want to talk to you). Now your job is to listen – and if you need some tips on how you can really listen to your loved ones (which as adults or parents we can all struggle with at times), check out last week’s blog…?.
If you or anyone in your family are struggling with mental health challenges then you can contact your GP for further support and advice, contact your nearest Youth Fairy, or access some of the mental health resources and support below:
www.dadsmatteruk.org offers support for dads worried about or suffering from Depression, Anxiety, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
www.mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393
www.youngminds.co.uk offers support for young people