The Everydad

Dads Struggle with Mental Health, Too—Here’s How to Find Support

written by CAROLINE CHIRICHELLA
dads mental health"
dads mental health
Source: Elevae Visuals
Source: Elevae Visuals

In recent years, people have been more open to discussing the “stigma” of mental health concerns. More and more people have come forward voicing their struggles with anxiety, stress, depression, PPD, and PTSD. But we often hear more about women and mothers who have mental health concerns. Men and fathers also struggle with mental health. It is shown that 5-10% of fathers are affected by depression during the prenatal period, while 5-15% struggle with anxiety—and these are only men who “admit” to facing these concerns. The question is, why is men’s mental health not as openly discussed? And why are fathers less likely to share their concerns? 

Here with the help of Forrest Talley, Ph.D. of Invictus Psychological Services, and Robin Kulesza, MA, LCPC, and EMDR Certified Therapist of Paths to Growth Counseling, we will discuss why fathers are less likely to reach out for help, why/how father’s struggle with mental health and what they can do when they eventually decide to seek advice. 

 

Why are men/fathers less likely to seek mental health services? 

 

Fix-It/Solution Mentality

Men approach most difficulties in life with a problem/solution orientation, explained Talley. “Consequently, when men have a problem they need to find a solution. Because men often don’t communicate with their buddies about mental/emotional problems, they assume other men either don’t have such concerns or have found a way to successfully resolve the challenge. Going to a therapist for help feels stigmatizing in light of what they imagine their friends have done (worked things out on their own),” he said.  

Men may also view psychotherapy as an ineffective solution. “After all, in psychotherapy, all you do is ‘talk about your problems and have someone comfort you.’ Interestingly, research shows a high dropout rate for men who perceive their therapy to not have focus and direction,” said Talley.  

 

Being Perceived as “Weak”

Talley also said that generally men dislike being perceived as weak, incompetent, or needy and psychotherapy can feel emasculating. Not only is it asking for help with a personal problem, but often it is about a female therapist.

 

Societal Influences

It’s been a long-held stereotype that men aren’t emotional. Keeping your feelings to yourself is only going to make your struggles worse. “It’s the women who are ‘hysterical’ or in need of mental health treatment,” said Kulesza.

“Boys haven’t typically earned praise through nurturing or showing empathy. They are praised and valued for their earning potential, careers, and physical strength.  We can look at the sports world and the popularity of sports like football to see how physical prowess is idealized.”

With this in mind, many men struggle with mental health because, in our society, it is frowned upon to be a man with feelings. 

There’s also a lot of pressure on fathers and husbands to be all things to their  wives and kids. Kulesza said that as a therapist, she hears men often speak of their secret fears of being seen as weak, unintelligent, not respected in the workplace or home, and feeling like an imposter. These aren’t things they tell their wives or friends. It takes a lot of courage to be so vulnerable.  

 

 

What can fathers do to seek help? 

 

Evaluate Your Self-Expectations

Talley said the first step is to take a realistic view of your self-expectations. “Very often I’ve found that men struggle because they have warped expectations about what they should be able to do in the role of father. Although in one way it is encouraging to see men who strive for high achievement as fathers and husbands (increasingly rare), it is not healthy to be unrealistic in what you can do.” 

 

Talk to Your Partner

A good approach is to have honest, constructive discussions Talley explained. Most men will find that what makes them especially appreciated by their wives and children is very different from what they imagined. 

 

Talk to a Friend

Another approach? Speak with a friend or two. “You needn’t tell your deepest darkest secrets but you do need to disclose what you are struggling with and ask for feedback. Obviously the more trusted and insightful the friend, the more you will value the feedback,” explained Talley.  

 

Reach out to a Professional

If deciding to seek professional help, there are plenty of ways to discreetly start. Kulesza shared there are great sites like  psychologytoday.com  where fathers can read profiles of therapists that they might feel comfortable with. Additionally, many employee benefits include mental health care. “Few people probably realize that insurance companies have behavioral health care coordinators/case managers that can be accessed  for free, and provide one on one support in finding the right therapist,” said Kulesza. “Call your member services number on your insurance ID card and ask to  speak to a behavioral health case manager.” She also said companies may also provide online resources for employees to do privately at home or offer employee assistance plans with several free sessions each year. It’s worth exploring what your company benefits have available. 

Kulesza said that once you decide to contact a therapist, call them and ask for a free 15-minute consultation to talk over the phone and see if it feels natural.  “If the one you picked doesn’t offer that, then move on to the next therapist. Most offer this because therapists  know the importance of a strong match with clients for the work to be more successful,” said Kulesza. 

 

Shift Your Mindset About Seeking Support

Lastly, realize  that your partner, co-parent, and kids deserve the best version of you. Try to see getting mental health support as an example of strength and courage, rather than weakness. There is no shame in struggling with mental health. Getting support can be the best gift you can give your family. 

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