Psychotherapist Noel McDermott knows the pandemic has been hard for dads. But he reckons it could also be an opportunity for change
In the UK, apart from front line workers, the two distinct groups of society that have been impacted most developmentally and psychologically from the pandemic. Those two groups are children and men.
Men have been hugely affected by the removal of an absolutely developmental and psychological need for complex social contact and the pressures of upcoming economic challenges around loss of jobs. It’s a tough time to be a human at the moment and it’s a very tough time to be a human male.
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. Men 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.
We know when men are struggling through some very simple metrics: alcohol consumption and alcohol related deaths, domestic violence, rise in violence in general, admission to psychiatric hospital for severe and enduring mental health conditions. All are on the rise at the moment.
The essential lesson all guys need to learn is that there is strength in vulnerability and loving connection to others. It’s 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.
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, drinking and indeed violence.
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. 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.
The answer is to embrace this moment of crisis as an 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 in the getting-through-life stakes successfully.”
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental Health Works Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual.