Today I celebrate my third Father’s Day as a father. For me it is a day not just to celebrate how fortunate I am for my young family, but to reflect on just how much I’ve learned about fatherhood and the issues facing fathers in all walks of life. In particular, it is a time to reflect on my responsibility to look after not just the physical health of my two children, but to treat their mental needs as just as important a priority.
Along with Catherine and Harry I have been spending a lot of time working on issues around mental health.
What we have seen time and time again is that so many of the issues that adolescents and adults are dealing with can be linked to unresolved childhood challenges – addicts that were not getting treatment for a serious psychological condition that started in their teens; men who committed suicide who had been depressed since they were in primary school; homeless teenagers who could not confront significant emotional challenges.
While the circumstances of any one situation are unique, it is clear that many families could have been helped if they had found it easier to talk openly about mental health challenges in the home. And I have been really disheartened to learn that even with all the progress made in recent years, many parents would still be ashamed if their children had a mental health problem.
Recent surveys have found that over half of parents have never broached the topic of mental well-being with their children, and a third would feel like failures if their child needed help. That’s so sad – no parents whose child needs help is a failure. Taking the next step and actually getting help is what matters.
We know that fathers find asking for help harder than mothers. Less than a third of fathers say they believe that the emotional needs of their children is a fundamental priority. It is often said that fathers can often find it hard to talk about their own feelings so there’s no wonder they struggle to speak to their son or daughter about the topic.
But we don’t really have a choice. I really believe that a child’s mental health is just as important as his or her physical health.
One of the great generational shifts that has taken place in society is how much attitudes to mental health have changed: we know today what was not well known or acknowledged in the past. A fifth of children will have a mental health issue by their eleventh birthday. And left unresolved, those mental health issues can alter the course of a child’s life forever.
So on this Father’s Day, I encourage all fathers to take a moment to ask their children how they are doing. Take the opportunity to discuss how you are coping with life and fatherhood with your wife, partner or with your friends. And know that if your son or daughter ever needs help, they need their father’s guidance and support just as much as they need their mother’s.