Paul Arvidson

In our final instalment of articles from SEND Dads during Men’s Health Week and Carers Week, we hear from Paul Arvidson who is a Parent Rep for Swan UK.

He talks about why he thinks men find it so hard to talk about their mental health and how unhelpful coping strategies can damage everyone in the long run.

How many boxes can you stuff in an attic?
Not as many as you think.

This piece is really about men’s mental health, honest, so bear with. As SEND parents, we all face an awful lot of traumatic stuff: our kids in pain, being discriminated against, hospital visits, even just the day-to-day weight of providing daily care for someone. But here comes the difference between SEND Dads and Mums. I think women talk about this stuff and blokes don’t.

Imagine each of those traumas is a box; the kind that you move house with. If you’re a woman faced with that box, you’ve probably already tweeted about it, Instagrammed it and had loads of comments about the contents and what to do with them. Perhaps even invited a mate round for coffee and do some box unpacking together.

What’s a bloke going to do with that same box? Straight in the attic. As a short term strategy? It probably works for a while, until you run out of space up there, or one of the boxes topples down the loft ladder and knocks you for six. And that’s when the damage happens. When the boxes fall out, they smash to bits, spill all their contents and everyone winds up cleaning up the mess. In real life that could be: depression, anxiety, affairs or just insert unhelpful coping strategy here. Messy.

Why the hell do blokes get all in over their heads in that way? The answer is way simpler than you might think: the alternative – facing all the emotion and dealing with it, to us, is far, far worse.

Talking about it

It’s not that blokes can’t talk, it’s just that we’re so ill-equipped to deal with talking about emotions and their consequences.

Typical bloke conversation:
Bloke A (has just been chucked out by his girlfriend): Hi.
Bloke B (notices Bloke A looks like hell): How you doin’, mate?
Bloke A: Mustn’t grumble.

The translation for the non-initiated here is ‘mustn’t grumble’ means things are really, really bad. If things were just a small amount of bad (unhappy, ill, just lost his wallet, frustrated by home-life, or in our case, the daily frustrations associated with bringing up a SEND child) then he’d have said ‘fine’. There lies our problem. Blokes don’t talk about important stuff, properly, at all. A man, on first meeting, would rather tell you when he last went to the bathroom or his most embarrassing habit than how he’s feeling. We’re just not taught to do it. We’re taught to swallow it down and plod on, one box at a time. Until – well you know what happens.

So, here’s the payoff. My humble offering for Men’s Health Week, for SEND Dads. Can we all accept amongst ourselves that we probably feel like hell and the next time someone asks us how we feel, tell them? Better still go and find someone to talk about it with: best mate, relative, work colleague you get on with? You could join an online group if you don’t feel there is anyone around you that you can talk to.

If that feeling doesn’t go away

If you feel bad all the time? Look up someone who’s an expert at it: a counsellor (they’re way less scary than dentists) or a psychologist. My ninja tip here is, if you’re going to get help by going to see your GP, go sooner rather than later. They can help you with medicines, but if you need ‘talking about stuff’ treatment, it takes ages to get. Start at the NHS counselling page (links below), There is all kinds of useful stuff on there and loads of links there for where to start looking for local counselling, whether private or NHS.

Lastly, if you’re the person a bloke has come to talk to – be there to let them know you’ll listen. A little prod can have a big effect (‘How are you really doing?’). Don’t try and fix it, just listen, be there to help him unpack his own box. Then it’s one less to go in the attic.

How are you feeling now? No, really.

Thanks to all our SEND Dads who opened up this week for My Family, Our Needs to raise awareness. Don’t forget to follow the hashtags #MensHealthWeek and #CarersWeek on social media and keep sharing stories.
When Paul isn’t writing about parenting, he is penning fiction books for adults.

Useful links

As well as supporting families affected by a syndrome without a name, they also run a specific Facebook page for Dads of undiagnosed children or children with a rare disease

A supportive online group for people aged 18 and over, managed by Mind charity.

Information about mental health conditions, treatment options and practical issues.

Counselling information