Ask DadPad, Mental Health
Ask DadPad: Where do I go to access support for my mental health?
Posted on 18th June 2021
Although around one in eight men experience some form of mental health problem in the UK, yet only 36% of NHS talking therapy referrals are for men. This is despite ongoing work worldwide to destigmatise mental health issues, and is believed to be the result of traditional societal expectations that men need to be strong, successful, resilient and a provider. Whilst men are definitely talking about their mental health to a greater extent than they used to, much more still needs to be done to create awareness of the symptoms of declining mental health and to make mental health support as accessible as possible for everyone. So today – and in readiness for International Fathers’ Mental Health Day on Monday 21st June – DadPad thought that we would have our say on this issue, with all male caregivers in mind. We asked Georgie from our team to write this one…
You’re a parent with two young children, a partner and a full-time job. Every morning you wake up and you and your partner have to get everyone ready, packed and out the door, in order to get to nursery, school and work on time. The first opportunity you have to even consider thinking about yourself is on the busy commute to work and even then your focus is on what you need to get done today. You fly through the day, giving little thought to the growling hunger in your belly, the neckache from falling asleep with your toddler in their bed last night, the brewing dehydration headache, or the text message from your partner, reminding you that they need you collect a delivery on the way home from work. The day becomes a whirlwind that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and depleted, and questioning whether you are doing a good enough job.
There’s no time to dwell on that now, though, and instead you rush home, because you’re late leaving work again and you feel guilty that your partner is home alone, coping with dinner and two very tired children. You completely forget about collecting the delivery. Arriving home just at the point your kids are halfway through their meal, you are ‘greeted’ by an exasperated partner and two over-excited, messy children. You eat your leftover dinner alone and then clear up the kitchen, whilst your partner wrestles the kids upstairs to bed.
You’re very tired by this point so you just plod through the evening routine, doing your best trying not lose your cool as you try to get the children to stay in their beds and go to sleep. As the day slips away from your grip there’s barely any time to catch up with your partner before they head off to bed. It’s too late to call your friend now, as you had intended, and so instead you pass out on the sofa alone, watching something you’ve saved on catch up, but never seem to find the time to view. You finally come upstairs when the toddler wakes you at 2.00am and you need to help soothe them back to sleep…
Sound familiar? It’s going to be easy for many parents to relate to that scenario. This dad is tumbling through each day, trying his best to juggle family, relationships and work. It’s easy to see how average daily pressures have engulfed his life and how he is stuck in the cycle of the daily grind. There’s no time for him to think about himself, do something he enjoys, exercise or maintain friendships.
Your mental health
Everyone has mental health and we will all go through a number of peaks and troughs in our lifetime, so it’s important to know the signs of declining mental health. The signs are often subtle, and you may not initially realise that your symptoms indicate that you are experiencing a decline in your mental health.
The experience can be likened to smoke seeping under the crack of a door and slowly filling the room you are in: you might not really realise what’s happening until you can’t see or breathe properly, then suddenly a blazing fire will break through that you’ll need to fight. Noticing as early as possible any changes to how you are feeling can help you put coping strategies in place or to get help sooner, so it’s good to know the signs to look out for.
Signs of poor mental health may include:
- Finding it difficult to stay focused or being easily distracted
- Becoming disorganised
- Continually putting things off or finding it difficult to make decisions
- Questioning your abilities or performance as a parent or in your job
- Worrying about things more than you usually would or getting overwhelmed by things
- Engaging less in in day-to-day activities
- Experiencing low mood, tearfulness or finding it difficult to control your emotions
- Experiencing irritability, short temper and/or aggression
- Tiredness and lack of energy, and sleeping more or less than usual
- Talking less and avoiding social activities
- Talking more or talking very fast, jumping between topics and ideas
- Drinking more than usual and/or drug abuse
- Loss of interest in sex
Self-care is often the first thing to be forgotten when your plate is spilling over, but it’s actually the key to surviving challenging periods in your life. Self-care isn’t necessarily something big, expensive and flashy, like a spa day or a holiday; it’s just something that you do for yourself that allows you to let go for a while, makes space for your thoughts and feelings, and you enjoy doing. It could be something as simple as calling a friend, going for a bike ride, having some time by yourself to just sit and ‘be’, listening to your favourite music or doing the gardening jobs you keep putting off. If you feel that you would benefit from being around other people or are struggling with self-motivation, why not join a local group, club or team? It’s a great way to meet new people, learn a new skill, move your body or just have a laugh. It doesn’t matter what your self-care looks like, as long as it works for you. Below are some other suggestions on how to balance your mental wellbeing:
Top tips for maintaining your wellbeing
- Move your body: Any kind of exercise is great for your wellbeing. Your body releases feel-good hormones when you exercise, which can help you manage periods of stress, low mood and anxiety.
- Fuel your body: When you’re going through periods of stress, low mood and anxiety, it’s easy to neglect yourself. The symptoms of poor mental health can also affect your appetite. Factoring in time to eat, planning what you’re going to eat in advance and keeping what’s on your plate balanced and colourful will help you stay on the best form possible.
- Express your feelings: Don’t bottle things up! By noticing how you feel and trying to put it into words, you are creating the space to deal with those feelings appropriately and to be supported by others. Often we only express our feelings when we are triggered into a reaction, which isn’t helpful for ourselves or others around us.
- Keep in touch: Everyone has busy lives but keeping in touch with family and friends is essential to our mental wellbeing, can reduce feelings of isolation and creates regular opportunities to share how you are feeling.
- Ask for help: A problem shared is a problem halved; asking for help does not make you weak or a failure. Reaching out can feel difficult, though, especially if you are used to being the one everyone usually comes to for advice and support.
- Do things you enjoy: Making time for joy is important when it comes to maintaining your mental wellbeing. It sounds simple but, when we are busy, our hobbies and interests are usually the first thing to be left off the list of things to do.
- Rest and recover: Being busy seems to be a normal part of day-to-day life, which reinforces the idea that resting is lazy. Planning periods of rest into your week gives your mind permission to switch off, gives you the mental space to reflect on things and creates the physical time to care for yourself.
When you need a bit more help…
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to manage your mental wellbeing and look out for signs of mental illness, you may need some extra input, and that’s OK.
The best place to start is with your GP, who will be able to listen to what’s going on for you and tell you what treatments are available to you. Common mental health problems are often treated with a combination of medication and talking therapies through your local NHS IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) service, but you may also be able to be signposted to nearby peer support groups or wellbeing activities through your local social prescribing service.
If you are experiencing more severe mental health problems, you may also be linked up to your local mental health team.
It’s important to remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling poor mental health and being open to exploring what is on offer will help you to figure out what works for you best. Your GP, however, isn’t the only person you can talk to about your mental health or the only way for you to access support, so set out below is a simple summary to help you better understand the various options that are out there.
Where to go to find support:
- Contact your GP: Your GP can prescribe from a range of SSRI medications (a group of medications commonly used to treat mental health conditions), refer you on to your local IAPT (see below) or specialist mental health services, or social prescribe activities in your area. Your GP may also be aware of local peer support groups, with other people who have experienced poor mental health. If you struggle to talk to a healthcare professional about your health, it’s fine to bring someone along to support you. You might also want to check out this handy interactive checklist which you can build before sitting down in the doctor’s office: www.docready.org.
- Talk to a Mental Health First Aider: Your place of work or a group or organisation that you are part of may have trained mental health first aiders as part of the team. Mental health first aiders are trained to: promote mental health within the workplace or a group; be able to listen to people with mental health concerns; and signpost on to the right services for you. Speaking with a mental health first aider is confidential, unless there is a safeguarding concern which needs acting on (e.g. if you disclose that you or someone else is at immediate risk of harm). For more information please visit https://mhfaengland.org/.
- IAPT Service (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Service): You can be referred to your local IAPT service or refer yourself, but you must be registered with a GP. The service will assess your mental health using a standard psychological questionnaire and, depending on your answers, will refer you to the most appropriate service that they have available. What’s on offer can range from self-guided help, to group courses and limited 1:1 therapy sessions (usually all involving a model of therapy called CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). If the IAPT service feel you need more in-depth care, then they may refer you on to other NHS specialist mental health services. For more information on IAPT services near you, please visit: https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/.
- Specialist Mental Health Service: Your local NHS Trust will also have a range of specialist mental services that deal with more severe mental health conditions. You can access these services by being referred to them by your GP or via another healthcare professional who is involved in your care. If you feel that you are in crisis, you can call to be assessed by your local crisis team. The care you receive is dependent on the severity of your mental health. For information on accessing mental health support urgently, please visit: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/get-urgent-help-for-mental-health/.
- Social prescribing: Social prescribing is a way for your GP to refer you to a link worker, who will be able to give you time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to your health and wellbeing. They can connect you to local community groups and statutory services who will be able to offer you practical and emotional support. What you can access will depend on what’s on offer in your local community, but this could include a range focused activities to support your mental health, such as: walking, gardening, swimming, cycling, team sports, yoga, meditation, breathwork, arts and crafts, and counselling. For more information, please visit: https://www.england.nhs.uk/personalisedcare/social-prescribing/.
- Peer support: Peer support groups are run by people with lived-experience of the group’s subject matter. They are trained to be able to listen, offer empathy, and signpost you to relevant information. Peer support groups offer the opportunity to talk to others about how you feel, to be part of a supportive community and to explore activities that can support your mental health. Supporting others as a peer supporter can also be a great way to maintain your own mental health, too, once you are well again. To find out more about peer support, please visit: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/p/peer-support.
If this blog has inspired you to find out more, or to reach out for help, then some of the following might be useful:
We have a number of other blog post articles on topics related to dads’ mental health, including: how to support your own and your partner’s mental health, whether dads can get postnatal depression (PND), and why dads’ mental health matters.
And, finally, some information on important sources of mental health support:
PANDAS Foundation UK
- FREE helpline: 0808 1961 776. Available on all landlines from Monday – Sunday 11.00 am-10.00 pm, the helpline is manned by a team of trained volunteers who will be happy to chat to you and direct you to the right support.
- Email Support: firstname.lastname@example.org, available 365 days a year. They’ll respond within 72 hours, and you are invited to get in touch if you’d like any more information regarding perinatal mental illness or are looking for support for yourself or your partner, friend or colleague.
- PANDAS also have two Facebook groups that you might like to follow: (1) their main PANDAS Foundation page, on which their social media team updates on current perinatal mental health news and reports; and (2) their PANDAS Dads private group, where the PANDAS Dads volunteers are on hand, seven days a week, to offer support and information for dads and carers affected by perinatal mental illness.
- FREE helpline: 116 123. Available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, Samaritans’ volunteers will listen to you, with no judgement or pressure, to help you work through what’s on your mind.
- If you find it easier to write things down, you can also email them on email@example.com (with a 24-hour response time) or write them a letter.
Mind‘s website also includes a list of mental health crisis helplines and listening services, which you may find useful.