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Men’s mental health: Let dads know they are not alone

Guest Opinion


Dr. Ron Larsen

Most dads understand the importance of staying healthy so they’re ready to handle the demands of fatherhood, whether it’s giving a piggyback ride or a first driving lesson. But total wellness is about more than just eating right, exercising, and getting regular checkups – it’s also about managing your mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, many men are reluctant to address mental health issues because of the stigma and stereotypes surrounding these conditions.

For example, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that more than 6 million men in the U.S. will experience symptoms of depression this year. But because it is often perceived as a condition that affects primarily women, many men don’t recognize when they are experiencing symptoms of depression and therefore won’t seek out diagnosis and treatment.

Untreated mental health conditions can lead to personal, family, and financial difficulties as well as higher risk of suicide – a serious problem in our region. Our state has the 5th highest suicide rate in the U.S. – 57 percent higher than the national average – and men account for nearly 80 percent of all suicides in Idaho. The good news is that mental health treatments are readily available and highly effective – but early intervention is often the key to long-term recovery.

This year, give dad the gift of good mental health and well-being by learning to spot the signs and symptoms commonly exhibited by someone at risk, and how to help him get the support he might need:

Unusual aggression or irritability: while men and women experience similar symptoms, they may express them differently. For example, women with depression tend to have feelings of sadness and worthlessness, while men can feel irritable, aggressive, or hostile.

Physical symptoms: our culture tends to discourage men from expressing emotions or admitting they need psychological help because they are supposed to “be strong.” As a result, men are more likely to downplay emotional and psychological symptoms in favor of talking about physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, headaches or digestive problems.

Changes in behavior: this can include changes in appetite that result in weight loss or gain; increased alcohol or substance use; insomnia or oversleeping; loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities; abandoning usual daily routines such as maintaining personal hygiene; and an inability to concentrate or remember details.

If you’re concerned about a friend or loved one who may be struggling with a mental health challenge, here are some tips for starting a conversation about seeking appropriate help and support:

Show that you are concerned in a way that is not confrontational or judgmental. Let the person know that you care about them, and you want to check in because you’re concerned about recent changes in behavior that you’ve noticed.

Keep questions simple. Ask how the person is doing and how you can help provide support. At this point it may be beneficial to ask if the person has thought about seeking help.

Offer reassurance and hope. Let the person know that they are not alone, and that you are there to support and help them feel better.

Avoid phrases that could sound dismissive or accusatory. Although you may not understand what the person is feeling, it is important to only express your unwavering support.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare works closely with Optum Idaho to ensure Medicaid clients have access to the services that best meet their health care needs. If you know someone in need or you are in need, there is help. Call Idaho Cares line at 211 or the Idaho Suicide Hotline at (208) 398-HELP (4357).


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