Father’s Day and Mental Illness

I never did enjoy Father’s Day.  No, I’m not a father.  I’m a daughter of one.  You see, my Dad struggled with Bipolar disorder.  Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic-depressive disorder, is a mental disorder that involves unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the way a person thinks. These shifts include periods when the person feels manic (extremely “up,” energized, irritable) and periods when the person feels depressed (“down,” hopeless, irritable, sad, and apathetic).

I grew up never knowing which “Dad” would show up that day.  The Dad who would sleep all day and watch old Western movies all night or the Dad who was ready to whisk me and 20 of our closest “friends” off to Disney World.  Would it be the Dad who praised his little girl for being so smart and pretty or would it be the Dad who had the daughter who was never ‘good enough?’  So many highs and lows left me numb, never sure of what I should be feeling.

As an adult, I would wander the aisles of Hallmark trying to find the perfect Father’s Day card.  Not the card that wrote wonderful sentiments about how Dad was the “man to look up to” or “the man who taught wonderful life lessons.”  I needed the card that said, “I love you Dad.”  The end.  I loved my Dad simply because he was my Dad.  The other mushy cards felt like rubbing salt in a wound, constantly reminding me of the “type of Dad” I never got to experience.

I got to hold my Dad’s hand as he passed from this life on earth 8 years ago.  Time has healed many of those wounds.  Counseling has healed others.  But it’s been understanding his mental illness that has been the most helpful for me.  I know now that he had a brain disease.  According to SAMSHA, Bipolar disorders may affect up to 4% of people in the general population.

My Dad never stuck with treatment for his mental disorder.  He was afraid to admit he needed help.  Studies show this is not uncommon, especially for men.  For instance, depression is a serious but treatable medical condition — a brain disease — that can strike anyone, including men. In America alone, more than 6 million men have depression each year.  Yet, men are less likely than women to recognize, acknowledge, and seek treatment for depression and other mood or mental disorders.  Perhaps the tragedy in this is there IS treatment.  There IS help.  There IS hope.  Men, fathers, and children of these men need not suffer alone.

So as Father’s Day approaches this year, I have a bittersweet peace in remembering my own Father.  I know I was loved.  I know I loved him in return.  Now, I can live today encouraging others to seek help.  Recognizing the signs that someone may have a mood or mental disorder is the first step toward getting treatment and living a better life.

The National Institute of Mental Health lists some warning signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, including:

  • 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
  • Misuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Aches, headaches, digestive problems without a clear cause
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

Let’s start the conversation and silence the stigma – for all men.

Written by Heather Hunley.

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Get Help

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress, please reach out to a mental health professional or get confidential, free support and text LOOKUP to 494949 or chat online here.

If you live in Indiana and need help finding a behavioral health provider, visit Find Help or call (800) 284-8439.

Start the conversation.  Silence the Stigma. 

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