6 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Dads might say they’re ‘okay’ when you ask – but a good conversation can help them open up about mental health struggles.
Identifying the common signs of depression in men can help you know what to look for.
Becoming a father is one of the most significant shifts in a man’s life – and not just because it marks the start of a long career in dad jokes. From the minute a family brings a new baby home, priorities tend to change. For example, keeping on top of laundry suddenly becomes extremely important (lest the family drowns in it), while making sure dad has some time to himself each week is most likely seen as a luxury.
Mental health and self-care become less of a focus in dads’ lives, but the list of responsibilities and stresses increases (think: changing diapers, giving kids a bath, planning nutritious meals, monitoring screen time). It’s a dangerous combination and it makes sense that so many dads go through depression. Up to one in 10 men experience it after the birth of their baby.
Don’t ask, “How are you?” Chances are he’ll respond with an automatic “good”. Like we all do.
Is he good though?
That’s the first thing you need to nail when working out if a dad friend is actually okay. Instead of asking ‘how are you’, try to start a conversation in a different way.
Asking open questions like this shows you’re actually interested in hearing about their life. It can help get your friend talking more deeply about their experiences. You could also ask observational questions such as, “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down. Is everything okay?” This indicates that you’re noticing and concerned about them. Hopefully it may encourage them to open up about bigger issues.
It’s often beneficial to set aside a specific time to have a proper talk rather than having casual, offhand conversations.
Suggest a day and time that you think will suit your friend to talk. Top tip, avoid the evening – chances are his house will be utter chaos. Consider what scenario might suit him best so you have his full attention and that he feels comfortable enough to chat. For example, meet him at work and take him for lunch.
Remember, we all go through particularly tough periods in life. Your friend might be ‘not okay’ right now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s got depression.
Knowing the common signs of depression in men can help you identify whether your friend is dealing with it or not.
Look out for:
If you notice any of these continuing for more than two weeks, it could mean that they have depression.
So how can you help a friend if you think they’re dealing with it?
Talking about mental health can feel awkward. But it’s really important to have these conversations. You don’t need to jump straight into giving your professional diagnosis (actually, definitely don’t do that – that’s not your role here). Just let your friend know that:
Sounds simple enough, right?
You may not even use the word ‘depression’ in your discussion. Here are some great topics to slip into a conversation about depression.
Sharing your own account of mental health challenges can help take the focus off your friend and make it seem normal to open up. A lot of people still sense a stigma attached to mental health, so your friend could be embarrassed to talk about it.
This is a great question to ask once your friend starts opening up and sharing with you. This will give you an idea about whether they’ve thought about seeing a therapist or not. It may not have occurred to them, or they may not think their situation is ‘bad enough’ to warrant seeing a doctor.
If they’re hesitant to get professional help, you could help them think creatively about ways they could alleviate some of the stresses and tension in their life to promote better mental health.
Remember, people respond to depression in different ways.
Some dads might bury themselves in work and skate dangerously close to burnout as a result. Others might withdraw from their friends, family and normal activities. Work-life balance is a hard thing to get right for any dad, but for a dad dealing with depression it may be even tougher.
Here are some areas you could talk about with your friend to help them get some perspective and take care of themselves better:
While you don’t need to offer solutions, you can ask questions and inspire your friend to think creatively so he can come up with some answers on his own.
It can be so tough trying to help a friend with depression who doesn’t really want to get help. Try not to be prescriptive or ‘tell them what to do’ (no one likes that). It may be enough just to share that you or someone you know has had great success from seeing a therapist. Try to normalise it so it doesn’t seem weird.
If you’re worried that your friend is having suicidal thoughts, don’t beat about the bush. Ask them outright if they’re thinking of hurting themselves. If they say yes, point them in the direction of a professional. Or take action by contacting a mental health service like Lifeline yourself. Research shows that asking someone directly if they are thinking about suicide will not put the idea in their head or push them towards it. It may be the question that saves their life.
Of course, when it comes to dads with depression, there are kids to think about too. Consider checking in with the family and gauging if there’s any way you could help out around the house or by offering to watch the children for a bit. Or perhaps by taking your dad friend out from time to time you can help him connect with activities he enjoys and feel refreshed.
Being a dad is hard work and new fathers need all the help we can give them. Finding it tough is totally normal, but it’s important to be there for new dads in case things start feeling a tad too much. If that’s the case for someone you know – reach out, have the conversation, and help them get the help they need. And with some help, we’re sure they’ll be back to being super dads in no time.