I was really touched by the BBC Newsnight feature last night on rising suicide rates (12 a day) among men in their 40s and early 50s.
There is plenty of evidence showing the impact divorce and separation has on men; we hear the stories daily at OnlyDads. Going from the regime of family home, wife, kids, job…to one of isolation, no home, little contact with children, the onset of depression and/or other mental health issues, redundancy…well, that’s a path well-travelled!
This harrowing journey generally takes between 12 and 24 months to see through and the results are grim. It can happen to anyone at any time.
At our weekly group meetings we offer an open door to dads who, for one reason or another, are struggling. The entry point for most men revolves around a struggle to see more of their children, post separation.
The Newsnight programme reinforced for me the value of what our group does and what it can offer. We all know men don’t talk about “their shit” to their mates or to their colleagues in the workplace. As a species we are constantly told to keep our – pecker – chin – head – spirit – all pointing upwards! It’s hardly surprising that back at the bed-sit, men try to do so, and conquer their sense of failure, through drink, narcotics, porn… or by just crawling into bed!
The very tragedy of these short-term kicks is that they don’t last very long; they lead, in fact, to further feelings of self-loathing and isolation. They should be our road-signs telling us danger lies ahead.
At our group meetings we offer dads space to be themselves. We hear all sorts. As a group we listen. We don’t judge. Sometimes we may chip in with advice or snippets of information. Sometimes we will share our own experiences. But more than all this, we listen. Men quickly find that they can share stuff that they never would with anyone else.
I’m looking back to the work of the group over the 18 months or so. Our core work remains helping dads build a better relationship with their children – often through support and encouragement during their efforts to re-build relationships with mum – but we increasingly talk through the altogether more complex (and interlinked) issues we face: work, isolation, money (or the lack of it) feelings of depression, lack of libido, anxiety disorders, personal failures – some big, some not so, but still important to talk about.
We’ve had a number through the doors – drinkers, hard men, men who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Men who have talked through their suicide feelings and, in some cases, attempts. Worriers – those who have stop socialising. Angry men…we’ve had all sorts in truth – what Jean Genet would have a called “the wonderful company of broken men”.
Good things happen though. Our group sees smiles at our meetings. Laughter too. Friendships are born – friendships that now flourish outside of the group itself. In short, what our group provides is a bridge for the isolated.
It would be good if every town and city could have a group like Totnes. One could write an essay on the benefits – but dads staying alive, getting to see more of their children, sorting themselves out and dusting themselves off…feeling able to move onwards and in some cases upwards, are prizes within grasp and worth working towards.
We asked the Government (DWP) if they would help us pilot an expansion of these groups, but they didn’t. That said, we reckon if just a couple of local dads got together in any town/city and found a location to meet and put up a few posters, you would find that men would come. We might not have the perfect model – but of one thing I’m sure; it’s better than nothing!