Over recent weeks I think we have all faced various challenges dealing with the lockdown prompted by Coronavirus. I am delighted today to welcome psychotherapist and mental health specialist Noel McDermott back to Dadbloguk to talk about dads’ and men’s mental health during lockdown.
I would never suggest women’s mental health is less important than men’s, but men can face some particular challenges. They aren’t raised to be as sociable as women so can have smaller social networks to call upon when experiencing stress.
While this doesn’t apply to my household, most men are the breadwinners so being furloughed or laid off can be major concerns. Men also respond differently to stress to women and may be more likely to drink alcohol excessively leading to all sorts of problems.
Noel is a regular media commentator and has 25 year’s experience working in health and social care. He has been holding online consultations with both male and female clients over recent weeks. Early last year Noel was kind enough to do a Q&A with me focused on the mental health pressures faced by dads in normal, quieter times. I could think of no better person to go back to and ask about tips and advice while we are all having to follow social distancing guidelines.
If you are concerned about either your mental health at this time or the mental health of someone you know, I think you will find what Noel had to say enlightening. Please do have a read and if you have concerns, take action.
I understand you are providing online therapy sessions at the moment. What kind of concerns are your clients reporting?
Clients are reporting increased anxiety about the future as well as anxieties about managing on a daily basis. The current situation is exhausting for a lot of people and it’s creating problems with sleep. We are seeing an increase in uncomfortable vivid dreaming and nightmares.
Are you noticing differences between the issues your male and female clients are facing?
There are differences between those living with their children and those not. And also, between those that have children and those that do not. Non-resident parents, who mostly tend to be men, are finding the current situation very difficult because although it is okay to travel between parental homes, often the resident parent is not allowing it for fear of infection. Men in general have fewer social and emotional support systems and they generally involve the sort of social activities that are currently banned. So, men are reporting higher levels of stress and men are also reporting drinking more.
Are you noticing increased levels of anxiety and fear among clients during lockdown?
Yes, levels have grown markedly and being fed a daily diet of terrible news is not helping. Many are reporting they cannot watch the news or look at updates on the situation as it makes them feel extremely anxious and panicked. This type of avoidance is typical of anxiety and trauma. Conversely clients are reporting they cannot stop looking, like rabbits caught in headlights. Those that watch too much news are reporting marked increases in nightmares.
We have spoken in the past about dads. Are there any particular issues you would expect dads to be facing at this current time?
One of the big roles for dads (and I am assuming here an intact relationship with mum and kids) is that dad is still the breadwinner. That role is significantly threatened currently, and this economic uncertainty is a very big issue. It produces loss of identify and reactive depressive symptoms or reactive anxiety symptoms. Additionally, there is a sense of helplessness in the face of the enormity of the situation. Unhealthy coping strategies are emerging including excess drinking. We have also seen significant issues around relapse in addiction issues.
Many guys are rising to the challenge but the longer this situation continues the harder it is to manage.
For non-resident dads there may well still be the financial issues but additionally there are problems with access to their kids. Especially where there has been relationship breakdown.
Of course, dads are also going to have to talk to their children about Covid-19. Have you ideas for managing children’s concerns about Coronavirus?
Be factual and be honest, ensure you use only credible sources of information, for example totally ignore the briefing from the US president! Your kids will be sourcing information of their own about the virus and be prepared to challenge this information without embarrassing or shaming them. Ideally encourage your children to share their thinking about the current situation and where necessary correct misinformation.
The Scottish Commission for learning disability have a number of free downloadable booklets about the virus that are beautiful, factual and can be helpful to a lot of children not just those with a learning disability (follow this link to download the booklets).
I notice you’ve said a few things about turning school closures into a positive experience. Could you expand on that?
There are clearly benefits in the short term to having more time together as families and with our children. Focusing on that will protect yourself and your children against anxiety and trauma. It is well researched that if we focus on gratitude our mental health improves and we can see the current situation as giving us many opportunities to share time together.
We can use this time to develop family projects around the home, learn new skills in cooking for example, look at how we can be of service to others and reach out to friends and family we haven’t seen for a long time via Zoom or Skype.
Time with our kids and loved ones is the most precious gift we can give, so it is important to be able to appreciate this time and live it.
I see you’ve also made some videos about the importance of forgiving others and yourself, as well as the importance of acceptance. This has to be sound advice while living in such close proximity with family members at this time?
Forgiveness is the pre-eminent relationship skill in many ways, whether it be small everyday issues or big life issues. We forgive because we want someone in our life. Holding grudges at a time when we are crammed in together is a recipe for disaster. It’s also called letting go. Right now, is not the time to do in depth relationship work. It’s the time to forgive, move on, contain or downright avoid conflict.
This is also going to be a lonely time. Social contact is important. What advice would you give to men to keep up social connections while we’re supposed to be social distancing?
Men on the whole tend to have social connectivity based on activities that are currently banned such as meeting friends in the pub, to play sport etc. The sense of isolation from this can be quite significant. Men overall were not on the phone to their friends or Skyping them prior to the virus and certainly are not doing it now. They have only their partners to turn to who are understandably busy with having the kids at home or have emotional needs as well. Often this is leading guys to internalise more and present a strong front.
What signs should a partner, or family look our for, suggesting the men in their life are struggling with life under lockdown?
The classic signs of struggling are true for men and women: Sleep disturbances, changes in mood, changes in appetite, changes in weight, and typically for men you will see an increase in the use of alcohol and issues around dysregulation (losing one’s temper more). Withdrawal is another sign of potential struggles.
What common relationship issues are people reporting at the moment? This is a moment of immense stress, surely some partnerships will be under strain?
A lot of relationships are under strain at the moment and due to very real fears of infection, financial insecurity, having to run a household as a school a workplace and a home at the same time, not having enough personal spaces, loss of social support.
Many people are in survival mode which can only be sustained for so long. In some ways the problems will surface more as we come out of lockdown and people let go more. It’s after the crisis we often count the cost. Without a doubt many relationships will flounder during these times and also without a doubt many will become stronger. It is a time of these types of extremes. So, we are predicting many divorces and many babies as a result of this current situation.
You also do some addiction work. If social media is any barometer, it seems many people are drinking more at this time. What would be your message to them?
Stop now, it is insane to be drinking heavily during this lockdown and period of possible infection for coronavirus. Increased alcohol consumption is linked to physical health issues including significant reductions in immune functioning, emotional problems, relationships problems, financial problems and work problems. These problems are in abundance right now just from life circumstances without inviting them in by drinking on this situation. One of the best things you could do for yourself currently to is go sober until we are through this situation.
Anything further suggestions you have for getting through this strange time?
Although this may seem like a litany of problems, we can help ourselves and loved ones in this situation:
- Simplify…cut out complex task lists and make each day as simple as possible
- Stay in the here and now…avoid thinking about the future. Yes, we have to be practical and plan but as much as possible reduce your thinking to what you are experiencing in the moment and focus on how make the moment ok. Everything else will fall into place!
- Mediate.. learn and do it now it really does help.
- Stop drinking
- Have good sleep hygiene, hydrate, eat well
- Take naps
- Practice gratitude
- Show love to those around you
- Practice self-care