With Father’s Day coming up, Men’s Health Week shines a light on health issues specific to men and boys. Until recently, this has focused primarily on physical health and awareness of diseases like prostate and testicular cancer. However, as we prepare to celebrate the dad in our lives this Father’s Day, it’s important that we also recognize the importance of their mental health.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, over 3.4 million Canadian men and boys experience mental health issues every year. These staggering numbers tell us that it is crucial to give mental health the same priority as physical health within the conversation of men’s well-being.
The key to starting a conversation around men’s mental health is to understand that stigma is one of the biggest obstacles that can discourage men from seeking help for mental health issues. Traditionally, men and boys have been told—by family, peers, and society at large—to “suck it up” or “toughen up” rather than speak up about difficult emotions or challenging life circumstances. Many men grew up believing that talking about their emotions was not masculine, or that it was a sign of weakness.
We know today that telling someone to ignore emotional suffering can be just as damaging as asking someone to avoid seeking medical help for a serious physical illness such as cancer. In fact, it can be deadly: in Canada, suicide is among the country’s ten leading causes of death, with men three times likely to die by suicide than women. The most at-risk group for suicide is men in their 40s and 50s, and up to 90% of them are believed to have substance use problems or a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, whether diagnosed or not.
How Project Parent addresses men’s mental health
FSGV’s Project Parent provides in-home counseling for families with children up to age 12 in the Lower Mainland. The program is among the very few currently available for fathers to identify the common challenges they face as parents, and the unique barriers they face as men, says David Tong, a family counselor with Project Parent Fraser South, who provides fathers of at-risk families with crucial support services.
In a social context that expects men to keep quiet and withdrawn about their personal struggle, Project Parent is a much-needed counterpoint. It offers a space for men to reflect on their role as both fathers and men. Family counsellors like David Tong encourage fathers to consider how their identity is shaped by their social environments and to be unafraid to voice the concerns and frustrations that arise from them.
Project Parent extends an outlet to men and their families so they no longer have to suffer in silence. By coming together, men can work toward overcoming their personal barriers in a safe, supportive, and understanding space.
According to Tong, we should be careful not to overgeneralize men as a whole. “It would be prudent to keep an open mind and inquire about how each male views himself as a unique individual,” says Tong, “that would be a good starting point in helping him address his own unique mental health needs.”
Tong reminds us that no two men are the same. As such, how we respond to their need for help should first consider “their unique intersection of race, culture, class,” among other influences specific to the individual. Understanding the plight of men at the level of the individual, each with their own concept of self and masculinity, can provide us with the tools to empathize with their distinct experience.
* Accessing services provided by Project Parent requires a referral via social worker from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development.