“…in some ways, depression made me a better soldier.” ~ Dad & Depression attendee
On Saturday, June 24, 2017, Speak Away the Stigma held it’s first event, Dads & Depression. It was held at the Cumberland County Public Library, downtown Fayetteville, NC. Three mental health professionals were invited to speak and educate the attendees on how depression looks differently in men vs. women, coping skills for men, and how Dad’s depression affects children. Not only were the speakers informative, they engaged the audience, made them laugh, and integrated real-life scenarios into the conversations to ensure they were relatable to the audience.
Richale R. Reed was the first speaker and after a brief statement about how mental illness had impacted her own family at an early age, she turned her attention to the men in the audience. “Depression doesn’t look a whole lot different in men”, she stated before she asked the men to share what Depression had been like for them. Three men stood up and shared a piece of their story, and that was unexpected. Anger, isolation, and a change in sleep patterns were some words used. In this town full of soldiers and military pride it was thought-provoking when a Veteran admitted, “…in some ways depression made me a better soldier“. He went on to discuss how when he was no longer a soldier he almost felt he had no purpose. Richale then discussed how stress can lead to depression, why awareness and your words matter, and why deciding how you want to deal with depression is an important decision that should be made with the help of a therapist.
Travis Andrews was the second speaker. He too agreed that stress can lead to depression, stating that “...no one was born saying I’m going to be depressed or I am choosing this.” Travis discussed depression and the single dad as well as coping skills, and he educated the attendees on how family relationships, dysfunction in the home, and adjusting to changes increases stress levels. Travis asked the audience to define “a man“, and touched on how trying to live within society’s definition does more harm than good. He also pointed out when men have issues they will often turn to men around them for advice, which he likened to “getting back surgery for a broken arm.” Why not enlist the help of a professional stranger Travis asked, explaining your most troubling and difficult times should be discussed with someone who won’t judge you, who is bound by confidentiality and whose only interest is helping you resolve your issues. Also, physical activity was one of the top ways Travis suggested Dad’s cope with stress, stating that simply going for a walk does wonders for the brain.
Joanna Nunez was the final speaker. Her topic, how Dads depression affects the children, was of particular interest to many in the audience. Anger, isolation and sleep patterns came up again and Joanna stated that it is common for adults to carry the pain of Dad being angry all of the time or the feelings of being ignored when Dad isolates himself from the family. She gave a reminder that children not only hear what you say but they also emulate your behavior, so it is important to “…not just discuss behavior but feelings as well.” Joanna and a dad from the audience role played different reactions children have to “Dad’s voice” and she discussed how “..a child’s reaction tells a lot about the about the parent”. One piece of information Joanna presented that was a shock to many people is that the effects of Dad’s depression on children were not studied until 2011, studies prior to that centered around only the Mom. While the studies with dads may be new, the fact that children can be predisposed to mental illness if mom or dad has a diagnosis is well documented. Joanna suggested that Dads take the time to remember what is fun for them and do those activities.
So what do you do if there is a man in your life that may need some help? Richale, Travis, and Joanna all agreed that focusing on dad’s behavior is the best way to suggest help. Statements like “You are angry so see a therapist”, are not likely to be successful. Instead, bring attention to constant yelling or the change in sleeping patterns, ask what could be causing the behaviors, and suggest talking to a someone may be a good idea. Dads are often a child’s first friend and the first person they look up to. If you are a dad or know a dad that may be depressed reach out to them and to see if they need to talk. Six million men are affected by depression every year so if you are one of them, rest assured you are not alone.
Psychology Today, your health care provider or even your primary care doctor are some places you can find a therapist in your area. Follow @SpeakAwaytheStigma on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to find out about our next event!