After a year of extreme disruption to all our lives and as we take the first tentative steps out of lockdown, how should men and fathers prepare for engaging with the world again? Going back to the pub, playing five a side football or returning to the workplace will be a big shock for some and so I reached out to Noel McDermott, a psychotherapist and an old friend of Dadbloguk to see what he thought.
As a rule, I no longer publish articles on Dadbloguk that are written by other people. It is a rule I break from time to time and I’m delighted to break it on this occasion with the article below from Noel. It provides a real insight into what men need to consider to ensure good mental health.
It also provides a valuable insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on men and the ways many men have attempted to cope with the stresses it has caused. The sad reality is that many have adopted negative coping strategies.
You’ll find more from Noel and the psychotherapy services he offers on his website (which you can visit here). You may also want to check out The Well-Being Show, the regular video series he produces.
I would encourage any man reading this who recognises the behaviours Noel outlines to take action and seek help. Any women reading this or anyone with a male partner may find this article useful in identifying negative behaviours, how they can be avoided and what to do about them.
“It’s reasonable to say that in the UK apart from front line workers the two distinct groups of society that may well have been impacted most developmentally and psychologically from this pandemic are children and men. Children because of the removal of an absolutely essential developmental and psychological need for complex social contact through school and peer mixing and men because of the removal of an absolutely developmental and psychological need for complex social contact. Additionally, for men are the upcoming economic challenges around loss of jobs, women are of course also affected by these things but to a different degree and in a different way.
“Men have traditionally taken an ‘all your eggs in one basket’ approach to psychological support, in fact men have shied away from any hint or suggestion that the activities that provide support (spending time with your mates at work or play) is in fact psychological or supportive. They are things and activities which have been largely removed because of the pandemic. For some men anecdotally this has led to helpful breakdowns and an opening up of vulnerability and need, for other guys this has led to a retrenchment into unhelpful coping mechanisms such as denial (and therefore increased suicidality), drinking and indeed violence.
“One of the eggs in the basket of course is how men still remain the main breadwinner in what are mostly two income households in the UK and still construct an identity on being the provider. The impending economic costs in terms of job losses spells a very difficult time ahead for lots of guys. Some men have really rallied during this time and have taken hold of the opportunities of home working and being with their families more, others though have not.
“We know when men are struggling through some very simple metrics: A rise in alcohol consumption and alcohol related deaths, rise in suicide rates, rise in domestic violence, rise in violence in general, rise in admission to psychiatric hospital for severe and enduring mental health conditions. All are on the rise at the moment.
“Maybe if you are reading this on Dadblog you are there or maybe you feel this isn’t about you, or maybe as an individual you feel you can manage better, but the truth is you can’t. When working with stay-at-home fathers and single parent fathers one of the things they tell me is that the parent and toddler groups they needed to attend for support were not children and parent, they were children and mother and the typical response they got as father’s who were primary parents was either suspicion about their motives or patronisation about their parenting skills. This culture clash kept them away from the support they needed. Are we at risk of doing that as men with other men?
“It’s a tough time to be a human at the moment and it’s a very tough time to be a human male. Men will have the tendency to retrench and retreat in the face of this, to regress into versions of manhood that are more toxic and psychologically fragile. Humpty Dumpty is the analogy used for this type of psychological defence…and you know what happened to him.
“The essential lesson all guys need to learn is that there is strength in vulnerability and loving connection to others, a simple truth that needs to be driven home hard right now. Research shows that for every 1% increase in unemployment in Europe there is a 0.8% increase in suicides and 75% of those suicides will be men.
“The answer is to embrace this moment of crisis (not too strong a word) as a profound opportunity to change. The key idea is spreading your bets, ask yourself who you have regular contact with, who you would talk to about anxieties, who would you arrange to go out for fun with etc? If your answers indicate that it’s a small number of people who are all pretty similar you are setting yourself up for a fall. Diversity is the keyword here, fill your life with a diverse range of opportunities to do all of the above things and you will have spread your bets successfully in the getting through life stakes successfully.
“Here are some suggestions for navigating in the short term and these are suggestions similar to the suggestion to ‘pull the cord on your parachute when you jump out of an aeroplane’:
- Stop drinking or reduce it to infrequent use at small amounts
- Make at least one phone call every single day that is about catching up with a male friend
- Identify those of your mates (male) who live alone and are possibly struggling at the moment and contact them at least once a week to chew the fat
- If you have kids, then role model talking about feelings with them (if you’ve got boys you might just be saving their life)
- Sleep properly, exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet
- Broaden your support network, keep new people coming into it
- Challenge yourself to develop new interests and hobbies
“Men need to move on from being defined because of what we provide through work, achievement etc. to being defined by what we are as people, by our values and connections with others. One of the important things that define me is my ten-year-old boy feeling okay to reach out to me and saying “hi” because he misses me, and I can tell him I miss him, and I love him. We can have that reality whether I am a provider or not, but we cannot have that reality if I am devoid of that internal capacity. That internal capacity is the real work of life, everything flows from that capacity. Love, relationships, attachment have profound impacts on our neurological growth and in particular on the development of our frontal lobes. Our frontal lobes give us huge capacity to be successful through improved cognition, executive functioning, impulse control, rational thought, more effective memory, better regulation of strong emotion, acquisition of new skills, capacity to adapt to new life circumstances… the list goes on. All of this is available to us because as social animals we relate in loving ways and the hormones produced by that facilitate frontal lobe development.
“Guys need other guys as part of this growth and the approach that involves checking out of aspects of male culture that are more toxic and retreating into a bubble of emotionally switched-on guys, is just another form of anti-social behaviour, a more educated version of Humpty Dumpty. We need to take our frontal lobes into the relational gym and find opportunities to relate to people (men to men) we might try to avoid. So, another parachute suggestion is finding ways to help out guys less fortunate than you, the enlightened bloke reading Dadblog, it might just save your life one day.”