We’re currently celebrating Men’s Health Week from June 14 to 20. It’s an important initiative that shines the spotlight on men’s health issues and encourages men to take charge of their health and wellbeing.
Although therapy might not be for everyone, we can all benefit from some help sometimes. And that may be even more so for men, who are less likely to seek professional mental health support.
“Men face unique mental health challenges largely because of cultural expectations,” says Parke Sterling, a licensed professional counselor in Virginia. “It’s oversimplified to put it this way, but for many men the ‘playbook’ for happiness is to get a job that pays decently well, work hard to move up, and spend your free time having a beer with buddies talking about superficial matters like sports.” The problem is that this can be quite dissatisfying, he adds, because guys find they lack a true purpose and connection—two vital elements for any human being.
Additionally, dads can feel weak or guilty asking for help or time to themselves. But for fathers to stay healthy, “they need to be seen as more than keeping the lights on and food on the table,” says Daniel B. Singley, PhD, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Men’s Excellence. “Tons of research shows that one of the best things you can provide for your family is the healthiest version of yourself.”
Below are seven ways dads (and any man) can support their mental health so they can be at their best in all areas of their lives.
Accept and normalize that you have mental health needs. First, be aware that you have these needs, Singley says, and that “needing” something outside of who you currently are is not a weakness. “We all need stuff we don’t have,” Singley says. “It doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you’re thoughtful and you want a life that’s about thriving, not surviving.”
Diversify your social life. “One of the most common dynamics I see that causes the biggest hit to a dad’s mental health and wellbeing is that they tend not to really keep up with friends and social support,” Singley says. Instead, a guy tries to get all of his intimacy and social support needs met by his partner. This is a recipe for failure. “No one person can meet all our support and intimacy needs,” Singley says. “If you are only willing to be vulnerable with your partner, that sets up your relationship for tremendous strain.” You could eventually start to resent your partner. For their sake and yours, book those tee times, happy hours, guys’ weekends, and other events with a range of friends. You’ll find you can support each other in different ways.
Take chances. When you get together with friends, dare to talk about deeper-level issues, Sterling says. This doesn’t have to be every time (after all, there’s a game to watch!), but having real conversations will allow you to connect on a new level. You may even find that you struggle with the same challenges and can give each other support and advice. Or simply commiserate.
Keep up your hobbies. “Men who become fathers, due to the whole protect-provide-hunter thinking, focus less and less on things in the ‘I’d really like to’ column because they focus on ‘I have to, or everything will fall apart,’” Singley says. But it’s essential to engage in meaningful activities that don’t directly inform the family logistics. Find things you don’t only enjoy but that truly give you a sense of meaning, whether that’s playing in a local basketball league, hiking alone, writing short stories, or anything else.
Be active. Oftentimes after they have kids, parents can fall prey to thinking exercise has to look a certain way—it has to be a specific length of time and level of intensity. And if they can’t get that, they shouldn’t do anything. Don’t fall into this trap. Any activity will boost your mood, give you a sense of accomplishment, and support your mental health.
Seek out other dads. Look online to find local groups or virtual ones that meet or have Facebook pages. These not only expand your social network, they also help you see you’re not “the only one” going through the challenges you face and can be a wealth of ideas for everything from talking to your boss about more work-from-home days to talking to your preteen about sex and so much more.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.