From the editor: Mental health awareness week

We’ve never needed to be more aware of our mental health. But in Mental Health Awareness Week we must remember it’s part of a bigger picture

international men's day mental health


It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. And my mental health was wrecked for the week when I banjaxed my back on Monday. Don’t worry, I know that mental health awareness week is not all about me. There is going to be a broader point to this.

I recently introduced my children to the wisdom of Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. As someone who graduated in 1999 it has a special place in my heart. And despite being essentially the words of any number of cat posters set to music I do think there’s some wisdom in there.

The line that came to mind was “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.” Well it was more like 11am on a Monday when I went to put my shoe on and my back went into spasm inducing pain at a level I’ve never experienced before.

I was essentially immobile for the rest of the day. Exactly the sort of conditions for gloom to descend.

Worried about how and when I’d be fit again. Concerned about the work I had to get done. My plans for the week undone at an unexpected stroke. Stress kicked in. Ironically the most effective thing at hampering physical recovery.

Mental and physical health

For there is a link between mental and physical health. The Make a Difference Foundation hosted a fascinating webinar later in the week on mental health and the workplace. The representative from Natwest on the panel explained how that bank focuses on four different aspects of health. Physical, Mental, Social and Financial. But these are not separate silos. If you’re short of cash your mental health will suffer. If you’re confined to the sofa your social contacts will wither. It’s a good way of approaching health. I put it into practice later in the week when I went out for a coffee with my partner – a walk to the coffee shop, a conversation, an improvement in my mood. The only part of the equation not improved was my financial situation given the cost of a coffee.

The point is that Mental Health Awareness Week is an excellent initiative. But we mustn’t use it to separate the mental from other aspects of health. All elements interact.

Working dads

What does it mean for working dads?

Well, on all four fronts I’d suggest we could do better. To be a working dad often means being the breadwinner. We’re working to break that hard and fast link here at workingdads but for now the evidence is that it holds fast, and that men who aren’t breadwinners often report it impacts their self esteem and their mental health.

If the family’s financial health is not all it could be, too often dads take that on their shoulders.

This last year has been a slog in terms of mental health. Again dads often feel the pressure to check in with and look out for the rest of the family. But we have to remember the airline analogy – always put on your oxygen mask before assisting others. We have to practice self care.

Socially, we’ve all had to put face to face meet ups on ice. That’s going to change from next week. We know that contact and conversation can be crucial ways to maintain mental health. Get out there and arrange coffee, beer, a game of tennis. Whatever floats your boat but you’ll be more use to your family if you’ve taken time for yourself and your friendships.

And physically we not only have to look after ourselves we have to admit our frailties. I wasn’t keen for my kids to return from school and find me prone on the sofa, poleaxed, banjaxed. But I couldn’t do much about it. And actually, showing that I’m not superhuman, that it’s OK not to be OK physically, mentally, socially, financially is a very important lesson to teach our kids.

What it means to be a dad

The whole experience has made me think about my mental health and what it means to be a dad who thinks about, talks about, expresses mental health. It’s made me more aware.

I’ve had an awful week. But, because of that, it’s been a great Mental Health Awareness Week.

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