When Fathers Don’t Talk

When Fathers Don’t Talk

By Cel Gonzales
As told to Jane Kingsu-Cheng and Kristelle Bechayda
Illustration by Roc Verdera

The World Health Organization “predicted that by the year 2030, mental disorders will account for 13 percent of the total global burden of disease.” In the Philippines, mental disorders that range from depression, suicide paranoia to schizophrenia to psychosis, afflict the young and old alike. The Department of Health says that there are over 2,000 reported suicide cases from 2000 to 2012. It’s not surprising at all if this number will be much higher at present, because many who are going through depression and other mental disorders hesitate to seek help due to the stigma that surrounds it.

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders caused by different risk factors. Genetics is usually the first reason behind it, so cross-checking on one’s family history can help give you a heads-up. There is also environmental stress such as financial problems, loss of a loved one, difficult relationships, major life changes, work problems, or any stressful scenario that may trigger depression. Last factor is illness where depression can appear with other serious medical conditions. Some medications may even worsen the depression as a side effect.

Even fathers get depressed

A father’s role is very important. He has a powerful effect in terms of raising his children and assuring his wife with regards to her self-worth. This leader, the father, can make or break a family. Unlike mothers who are more open about admitting they need help, fathers tend to keep it to themselves due to the sociocultural environment that men shouldn’t “cry” or ask for assistance. In reality, fathers also face so many pressing problems that can often lead to depression.

As a certified mental health worker, I have encountered many individuals (and fathers) who go through depression. One story is that of Mang Juan, a father of three. He did not finish high school, but her wife Eleanor finished two years in college. She had better work and manages their store, which earns P15,000 a month. Mang Juan cannot complain, because the wife provides more than him. He became depressed, ended up drinking, and even engaged in drug use from time to time. They fight every day. One day, Mang Juan was insulted by his wife because he could not provide for the family. This led to Mang Juan’s depression, succumbing to which he one day kept his own family hostage. Mang Juan is now in prison. His depression and alcohol addiction were not addressed.

Another scenario is single parent Peter who separated from his wife five years ago. A third party was involved from his end, which resulted with the wife leaving him and their son. He has been taking care of their small family of two by working as an employee. He thought that providing his son all the material things would replace the need for a mother. Until one day, he suddenly woke up from his sleep from palpitations and feelings of restlessness and even paranoia. He thought that his son thought ill of him. He stopped working and locked himself in his room. The boy was then moved to his mother while the father still chose isolation from the world.

Warnings of depression

These are just some of the patients I’ve encountered over the years. Depression can slowly and unknowingly creep in, so everyone should be observant enough to know when it does happen. Here are some signs that your husband might be heading toward depression:

  1. Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness, which often leads to arguments. Most of the time, these fights are witnessed by kids, causing trauma to the children and misbehaviors.
  2. Feeling anxious, restless, or “on the edge” will lead to paranoia. He might be in constant doubts that his wife or kids are thinking something bad against him, or his wife is having an affair.
  3. Loss of interest in work, family, or once-pleasurable activities. These are replaced with idle time spent playing games, going online, watching unnecessary videos to having an affair, gambling, and other vices.
  4. Problems with sexual desire and performance. In effect, the wife will have a tendency to find another relationship due to husband or partner’s inability to make love. This will also lead to paranoia.
  5. Feeling sad, “empty,” flat, or hopeless. The husband will have no drive and purpose to be a father and be responsible.

Other red flags to consider are physical manifestations like having headaches, cramps, and problems of overeating or not eating at all, and digestion. They might also experience constant fatigue due to lack of sleep or too much sleep, difficulty in concentration and remembering. Inability to meet work and family responsibilities, and isolation should also put family members on red alert. Meanwhile, self-destructive actions like engaging in high-risk activities, developing vices for alcohol or drugs, and having thoughts of committing suicide are also urgent signs to look out for.

How to help

Most family members, especially the wives, will try their best to hold it together for the family. More often than not, the wives will have already run out of patience by the time these warning signs pile up. Husbands will have avoided all communication by then. It is important to remember to keep an open mind and maintain a calm mood when reaching out to the husband.

Seeking professional help is very important. Once diagnosed, there are several treatment medications available such as psychotherapy, psychoeducation counseling, as well as marriage counseling if the couple needs one. Try to research on other wellness programs that can aid him and the whole family in getting back on track.

Apart from the clinical aspect of treating depression, it is also important that he gets the support, understanding, and encouragement of family members. Simple gestures such as listening to him or accompanying him during doctor’s appointments will greatly help him in his recovery. Never ignore depression, suicide thoughts, or threats. Help increase his activities by inviting him to try new ones or do things together as a family. Never ignore depression and help him understand his medications and their effect.

With mental health currently a prevalent concern in Filipino households, acknowledging its effects is crucial in addressing it. Mental health is everybody’s business. It is high time we created awareness and help in the prevention of mental illness. With the present complicated conditions and the pressing social and personal problems that we are dealing with, no one is spared from the possibility of suffering from mental disorders.

Cel Gonzales, a rehabilitation practitioner accredited by the Department of Health, is also the program director/quality control director of The One Algon Place Foundation, a facility accredited by the DOH in providing services such as drug and alcohol treatment rehabilitation. It is also an acute chronic psychiatric facility for 15 years now. An active consultant for Institutions schools LGU-DOH (DDAPT) on mental health and substance use, she also organizes trainings on mental health and drug awareness seminars under Algon Consultancy Services. This mom-of-three is the prime mover of Mental Act and The Brain. She is the co-author of a comic mental health book, Cyber Brain.