My work in gender equality means people can mistakenly believe that it’s all about women. It’s not. Gender equality is important for all genders. This post highlights what happens when men don’t want to be seen as weak.
I research, advise, consult, speak and write about gender equality and advancing women into leadership. What many people don’t realise is that being an advocate for gender equality means I care deeply about the entrenched gender stereotypes that harm women and men, girls and boys. Men are also affected by rigid stereotypes about what it means to be a man. We know that these rigid stereotypes lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes, which is a contributor to the leading cause of death in men under 45 in Australia. Suicide.
I met Adam Tardif through our shared love for and involvement in Women’s Australian Rules football. Adam is a trailblazing bloke who is helping to reduce the risk of men’s loneliness, disconnectedness and poor mental health when they become parents. His strategy? Dads Group Inc.
This guest post highlights the very real experience that men and in particular new dads, encounter and what happens when men don’t want to be seen as weak.
This post first appeared on Dads Group Inc
“Hey mate, how are you?”
Like most men Jimmy answered as always “yeah good thanks mate”. But things for Jimmy weren’t good at all, in fact inside Jimmy was really hurting, but he didn’t know why, and he didn’t know how bad.
Growing up Jimmy has always been really social, loved being around his mates, always having a laugh with his mates, the life of the party we all know that guy. Everyone that knows him would often comment on how he always seemed so positive. Most days this was an accurate reflection on him, however other days it couldn’t be further from the truth of what was really going on inside for him.
When he felt like this, he had no idea how to show it or who to turn to. He was more worried about bringing others down or they’d learn the truth which made him feel embarrassed, so it was easier to wear the mask instead. Alcohol and drugs made the mask even easier to wear, nobody knew anything, but time was slowly ticking by and not even he knew what was coming.
Just like Jimmy, most men are very good at putting on a brave face and the most common reason is because we don’t want to be seen as weak.
The Statistics About Men
According to Beyond Blue statistics:
‘One in Eight Australian men between the age of 16 to 85 will experience depression in their lifetime and One in Seven will experience anxiety in their lifetime.’
That means that today up to around 1.5 million men are battling these mental health disorders and are less likely than women to seek help. It is no wonder men are 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women are.
When Jimmy found out he was going to be a father, he was so excited because he’d always wanted to be a father. During his wife’s pregnancy, he discovered that he had a strong feeling of anxiousness that he hadn’t felt before, he couldn’t shake it particularly in the first trimester. When his baby was born, he felt nothing but sheer joy and a strong feeling of contentment in becoming a father, life felt complete.
However, those feelings slightly became overshadowed about six months after his baby was born, as he started to develop symptoms of depression such as feeling low in mood, excessive alcohol use, a short fuse, feeling isolated and disconnected, yet still at this point he was unaware of how bad it was getting.
According to Beyond Blue statistics:
‘Depression affects one in 10 fathers between the first trimester and the year after their babies born.’
Around this time Jimmy got a promotion with a new organisation after 6 years in his previous job, everything seemed to be looking up again. About 4 weeks into his new job, everything started to dramatically change. Like all promotions it came with greater responsibility and expectation, and if you aren’t being supported well enough then this can cause significant stress and anxiety.
The Ticking Time Bomb
That is exactly what happened to Jimmy, the downward spiral began, and he quickly developed common symptoms of depression and anxiety such as sleepless nights, excessive alcohol use, overthinking things, paranoia, he developed a short fuse and often sick in the stomach about going to work. This was causing him to struggle to be present and engaged with his family. He said even when playing with his child on the floor he couldn’t switch off what was happening at work.
Within a matter of weeks that slow ticking time bomb that was developing over all those years, finally went off with a bang. Jimmy was at work one morning, when a colleague that was continuously drilling him tipped him over the edge and he fell in a heap. The next thing he knew he was out on a busy street, uncontrollably crying looking for a way home and to the doctors. He knew he wasn’t right, he desperately needed help and fast.
I remember him telling me he has never felt anything like it, he felt scared, his vision was blurry; a rushing feeling in his body but everything was going in slow motion. He described that it was like he could see a fork in the road, one way leading towards help and the other way leading towards ending his life. He said even though there were two directions he could go, thankfully the main one he focused on was getting help because he wanted to live for his family.
Public transport was not an option, he was a mess, so he hailed a cab, rang his wife who immediately left work to join and support him at the doctors. He said the doctor was amazing, even though he struggled to get the words out of his mouth she made him feel comfortable enough to speak, she listened to what he had to say, developed a mental health care plan which included a referral to a psychologist and made an appointment. She also had a follow up appointment a week later so she could check in again to see how he was doing.
Taking Off the Mask
It was after this experience that Jimmy decided he was not going to wear the mask anymore; he was not going to put on a brave face anymore because he realised that it clearly wasn’t helping him. He decided to lead by example for his child, his family and those around him especially other men; so he opened up and shared about his experience, what he did about it, how it has helped him and now if anyone asks him how he is going, he is honest about it and will openly say if he is going well or not, caring less about what people thought of him.
His family and I are so incredibly thankful that he sort help and support. He told me that he still gets scared when he thinks about that day. The idea of what could have happened, what it would have done to his family can be unbearable to think about, but he has never been happier. He still has good and bad days, but he is managing better now when things get tough. He is actually doing incredible things for other fathers and families in the community, mainly because he doesn’t want them to go through what he went through.
His wife told me recently that he has never been more present and more engaged with her and their child than he is now. Having the social supports around him like other fathers in the community, connecting with other like-minded men going through the similar challenges and stresses of parenthood has made the biggest impact on improving his wellbeing.
If you are struggling with mental health and want to seek professional support, then contact your doctor or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you want to seek some social support, then I encourage you to join your local dads’ group.