Good mental health care is crucial for a man going through a divorce. It is important he is mindful of his own health and that of his children. Going through a divorce will probably be one of most the stressful events of a man’s life. It is especially important that he take precautions to monitor his stress.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) men are much less likely than women to admit they are suffering from depression, anxiety, or other stress-related mental illnesses. They are much more likely to be affected by the stigma associated with mental illness and to avoid seeking treatment.
Mental Illness Stigma Prevents Men from Seeking Help
Men may be reluctant to consider the fact that they may be suffering from depression or another stress-related mental illness when going through a divorce. Many men fall prey to society’s unspoken attitude that a man should remain strong and silent about his mental health. Doing so can have disastrous consequences for men undergoing the stress of a divorce and can create unnecessary problems for him and his children in the aftermath of the divorce. Stress can lead to depression and anxiety for both him and his children for years after the divorce is final.
Men must be proactive in monitoring their own stress and that of their children while going through a divorce. Waiting too long can worsen any mental illness and its consequences. Often, the illnesses don’t just go away. Taking preventive measures such as therapy for themselves, their children, and (if possible) involving their former spouses, is essential for maintaining good mental health during and after a divorce.
NIMH estimates that six million men suffer from depression each year in the United States. Their research has found that men are much less likely than women to get the help they need for psychological problems, and often they will simply try to hide their stress or other health problems like depression. The institute states flatly that men “may be unlikely to admit to depressive symptoms and seek help.”
Children’s Mental Health Must Be Monitored
Mental health problems are often related to stress. Divorces are stressful. Men going through divorces must pay careful attention to their levels of stress both during and after the divorce process. Children too are subject to the same stress as their dads, and dads must step up to ensure that their children’s mental health is monitored and treated as needed during the divorce process and for years after. Ideally, both parents will be involved in ensuring the well-being of their children, but the kids can get lost in the shuffle. If both parents are not willing to be involved, it is up to dads to step up and ensure that both their own and their children’s mental health needs are taken care of as the divorce process unfolds. A good first step is to seek the advice of a primary care physician.
Stress comes in many forms, and often it is not obvious to men that their stress has reached a level where medical help is needed. However, there are warning signs, and men going through divorces are well-advised to pay close attention to those signs and make sure they and their kids receive the medical treatment they need.
Recognizing When Stress Requires Medical Help
Everyone has stress, and not all stress is bad, according to experts, but long-term stress like that brought on by going through a divorce is bad stress. It is a medical problem that needs attention like other medical problems. Such long-term stress can lead to other forms of mental illness like anxiety and depression. It can also make going through a divorce all that much harder.
Men getting divorced should learn to recognize the warning signs that their stress is getting beyond the typical stress brought on by work and family issues that they may have experienced and dealt with in the past. Just like a broken leg, stress and other mental health problems are medical problems and must be dealt with accordingly.
While it would be ideal for both parents and their children to go to therapy to help to recognize and cope with stress during a divorce, it is often not possible for both parents to be involved. Many schools have programs for kids whose parents are getting divorced. If a dad cannot get the other parent involved in therapy, he should consider talking with his children’s school counselor. Stress can have a huge effect on many aspects of kids’ lives, and free help is often available at school. It may even be a good idea for a man getting a divorce to have some sessions with a therapist specializing in children’s mental health issues to help him recognize warning signs in his children and learn ways to help them cope.
Have a Plan in Mind for Dealing with Stress
Like telling your kids you are getting divorced, to begin with, it is a good idea not to wing it when helping your kids cope with stress. It is likely you will be able to help in various ways, but first, you will need to be able to recognize the signs of long-term stress and have some definite coping strategies in mind. It is a good idea at the first signs of stress to let your kids know it’s normal for them to feel what they’re feeling. However, just letting them know it’s all going to be OK and not to worry is not enough. You will need to get some experienced medical help so you can provide your children with ways to deal with their stress. Breathing techniques and talking to a school counselor about what they’re feeling can help children immensely in dealing with the stress brought on by their parents’ divorce and the new lives they will be living.
A man must be able to recognize that there is nothing wrong with his own feelings of stress and not to succumb to the stigma associated with mental illness. Men getting divorced must be able to recognize when their stress has gotten to be too much to deal with alone. A man must be able to recognize symptoms of stress in himself and admit to himself that he may need help. A man going through a divorce should be no more averse to seeking medical help for a mental illness than he should be in seeking help for any other medical problem.
Warning Signs of Stress-Related Mental Illness
Men should be particularly mindful of the following warning signs that their stress has reached a level beyond what they can deal with themselves. These are warning signs that their stress has exceeded what they have been used to dealing with day to day. These warning signs indicate that it may be time to seek help in dealing with stress.
The following warning signs are the most common ones. They are an excellent starting point for a dad going through a divorce who needs to reflect on his and his children’s levels of stress.
The National Institute of Mental Health advises men to look for the following signs that stress could lead to a long-term condition:
- Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
- Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
- Increased worry or feeling stressed
- A need for alcohol or drugs
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
- Engaging in high-risk activities
- Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
- Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
- Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
- Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people
Once a man has identified any of these signs, a good resource for local options for finding help is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline. NAMI offers great help for a man going through a divorce who needs to find medical help for his stress, other related problems, or even just a group of other men with similar issues to talk with. Talking with others with similar challenges helps men realize they are not alone, and just sharing their stories with others can be of significant therapeutic value in dealing with mental illness.
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