A Father’s Day Message from Commissioner E. Douglas Varney
In the United States, researchers have calculated that approximately 6 million men suffer from depression each year, and many are reluctant to disclose their mental illness symptoms or seek treatment. It is also estimated that one in four men will be affected by mental illness, resulting in feelings of stress, anxiety, and worse case, suicidal thoughts. These are troubling statistics.
For generations, men have found it challenging to share deep-down feelings and emotions. Expressing concerns about such things as mental health can be uncomfortable, in some instances taboo, and a sign of weakness. For many, the norm is to keep feelings and troubles locked up inside; that’s what men do. But putting up a tough facade on the outside can result in anger, resentment, hostility, and even deep sadness that can lead to or exacerbate a serious mental health condition, thoughts of self-harm, or harming others, and potentially suicide.
Mental health for men has been called the silent killer. What that means is, men tend to ignore or put off signs and avoid talking about their mental health often out of fear of appearing weak, exposing feelings, and a history of painful memories. Most men and fathers with this mindset are frequently at higher risk of mental health related issues, such as depression and suicide, substance abuse and are more prone to physical ailments as well such as cardiovascular related conditions. Mental health absolutely has an impact on physical health and vice versa. Nothing good comes from bottling up your emotions.
As a husband, father, and grandfather, I can understand why men want to shield others from feelings of anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness. In many families, cultures, and organizations, the mere mention of mental health is viewed negatively. Regrettably, many men who experience these feelings or thoughts will avoid reaching out for help.
Some may rationalize that it’s just not manly to seek help for a mental health condition. You’d seek treatment for a heart condition that could potentially harm you. Poor mental health can be just as destructive. I assure you there is nothing weak or shameful about reaching out for help in a time of need. In fact, doing so is a sign of strength. You would do it for a loved one; do it for yourself.
This Father’s Day, I encourage all men and fathers to take a personal pledge to make mental health a priority. Begin taking steps to seek help and to be more open about your feelings. Your spouses, children, extended family, colleagues, and others are counting on you and care for you deeply.
Wishing all a Happy Father’s Day,
E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner
Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services