One of the hardest things a man faces as a father can be his own shadow. Disappointment, confusion, demands of both work and home life can cast a long shadow on a man’s thoughts and feelings. And as such a man can become conflicted and paralysed; overwhelmed by the tasks and obligations that seem to happen at once, or in a constant barrage without end. I know this because I am there.
I won’t go into the details about my situation specifically. But I want to send this out to other fathers to say that you are not alone. Rates of depressed dads range from 3% to 25% depending on which research you read. I found through my reading that there is a strong focus on Post-Partum Depression (PPD), which is more related to child birth and the early years of family rather than later years. Both my kids are over ten years old and so my depression is not related to the immediate birth of my children.
My depression is the end result of several factors. Financial pressures, low self-esteem, relationship issues and health problems form powerful forces that have made me feel inadequate to the task of being a good father and a good partner. There may be other issues at play too. But whatever the cause, I have to look beyond what made me depressed and start moving forward to pulling myself out of this rut.
I knew I was depressed because I was displaying some of the common symptoms. I was generally unmotivated to do anything. I felt so overwhelmed by what I needed to do that I opted out of doing anything. I was very tired and not sleeping well. I had the constant need to distract myself with games or food. I also spent a lot of time in my head worrying about things rather than taking action. I avoided responsibility and relied on my partner to make decisions, even about the tiniest thing. I failed to pay attention to the needs of my children, the needs of my partner and even sometimes my own needs.
Do you see that in yourself? Maybe not, depression is an individual experience. You might be displaying different symptoms. I have read that depression in men is sometimes expressed as anger rather than sadness. And this anger is often not channelled into useful activity; rather it is directed to your kids, or your partner or your work colleagues. This means that depression is not related to feeling sad and dismayed, but for men, it might mean a constant state of frustration and annoyance.
One thing that you need to know is that although Depression is classed as a mental illness, it does not mean you are a loon or a nutcase. It just means that you are temporarily hampered by your brain and locked in a negative mind-set that prevents you from feeling good about yourself, your family and your life. The brain’s ability to focus on positive action is restricted because it may not be producing the right patterns and chemicals that help us function. Compare this to any physical illness you might experience; a broken bone needs to be reset and healed, diabetes needs to be identified and treated with the appropriate lifestyle choice and medicine. The same with mental illnesses in general; they need to be identified and a treatment plan applied. Some mental illnesses are permanent and need to be controlled. Depression is not a permanent state but if you have had it once, you are more likely to experience it again.
My wife identified that I was depressed. Well, I knew I was depressed but I wasn’t ready to face that truth. I went to a doctor and he went through a check list of questions related to motivation, mood and reactions. He recommended a counsellor; some psychologists tend to focus on thought patterns and actively help the patient to change them. Others focus on behaviour patterns. What is important is that you find a counsellor who you like and can relax and talk to. Don’t expect to get an instant fix though. Recovery from mental illness takes time and effort.
I understand how hard it is to feel motivated to take action on mental illness. Society likes their men to be able to cope with whatever. But the truth is that we can’t always cope and don’t wish to do anything about it because men must cope. But let me say that men as problem solvers need to realise that if your mental illness is a problem, the solution lies in admitting that there is a problem and seeking help. I think as a society we forget that sometimes help is a solution.
Go to a doctor, do some research on the web, talk to your mates.
I’ve put some links here as a starting point if you want to do this on your own. Remember, you may not want to be depressed, but if you are, there are people around who want to help you.
Post-Natal Depression (A NZ government web page)
Depression Organisation (A NZ Health education site about depression)
Mental Health Organisation (A NZ charity organisation)