Daniel LaCroix, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and a member of Inova Medical Group. He is the integrated behavioral health manager for Inova Behavioral Health Services.
This Father’s Day, you could give your dad another tie or a new set of barbecue tools. Better yet, you can ask him a question that might make a real difference in his health and happiness: “How are you really doing, Dad?”
Millions of men in the United States are dealing with mood and mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and serious mental illness. More than 6 million men alone have depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet men are less likely than women to seek help for depression and stressful life events.
Worried your dad might be struggling? Here’s what to look for — and how to help.
Recognizing Depression & Anxiety in Men
Most people think depression is just sadness and anxiety is just a form of worry. But those are hardly the only symptoms. In fact, the signs of depression and anxiety disorders in men are often more subtle. Some of those less obvious signs include:
- Anger or aggression
- Changes in energy or appetite
- Changes in sleep habits
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Engaging in risky activities
- Sudden changes in behavior
How to Support Your Dad’s Mental Health
Unfortunately, men aren’t great about getting help for their mental health problems. Men in our culture aren’t often encouraged to talk about — or even identify — their emotions.
There’s a lot of stigma around mental health problems, and men often see them as a sign of weakness. This can be especially true among men of an earlier generation.
That doesn’t mean they have to suffer in silence. If you’re concerned about your dad’s mental health, these strategies can help:
1. Show up. Social isolation can make mental health problems worse. Yet many men have limited support networks, especially as they get older. Text, call and make a point to spend some extra time with your father.
2. Choose the right time and place. When you’re ready to talk to your father about his mood and mental health, pick a time when you can talk one-on-one. It can help to chat while you’re doing some activity together, whether it’s playing golf or just going out for a quick bite to eat.
3. Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell your dad in a straightforward way what you’ve witnessed, and ask what’s going on: I notice you seem agitated lately. Is everything OK? Share your observation, then create a space for him to fill in the details.
4. Build an alliance. Don’t pepper your father with questions. Instead, make clear early on that you’re there to help: I’m here if you want to talk about it.
5. Offer to help in specific ways. If your dad seems stressed, you can offer to take him to doctors’ appointments, mow the lawn or do other practical things to help.
6. Normalize therapy. Many men think therapy means laying on a couch, sharing their most private thoughts. In fact, many types of modern therapy are based around finding practical solutions to everyday problems. If you’ve been to therapy, or have a friend or family member who has benefited from it, share that experience with your dad.
7. Point out that getting help is a sign of strength. Unfortunately, old-fashioned social norms have taught many men that going to therapy is a sign of weakness. What your dad might not realize is that his mental health problems can affect the whole family. It can help to point out that by seeking help, he’s doing what he needs to do to stay strong enough to take care of his loved ones.
Inova’s mission is to promote total wellness, in body and in mind. Learn more about Inova Behavioral Health.