Ask a counsellor: "Why won't my husband get help for panic attacks?"

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine addresses male mental health.

The problem …
“I’m so worried about my husband and don’t know what I can do to help him. He’s 42 and over the last six months, he’s regularly suffered from panic attacks. He says he finds it hard to get his breath, his heart starts thumping and then he feels very woozy. On one occasion last week, he nearly passed out and it scared me so much.

“I persuaded him to speak to his doctor, who told him that these bouts are probably triggered by stress and that they won’t cause any real harm. He also said that he could help my husband to control these bouts with medication but if he wanted to get to the root of the problem, he should consider seeing a counsellor.

Read: How to stop a panic attack

“My husband has completely rejected this, as he doesn’t like the idea of people ‘messing around in his head’. He did agree to start taking the medication though, but it doesn’t seem to be helping and he is still having these dreadful panic attacks. I want to help him but just don’t what else to do?”

Fiona says …
“I’m afraid your husband’s attitude towards counselling is quite common, but that’s probably small comfort to you. If he really wants to put a stop to or at least control these attacks, he should listen to his doctor and arrange to see a counsellor. Although your doctor has said they won’t cause any real harm, the longer they continue, the more emotional damage they can do.

Read: How to overcome fears through hypnotherapy

“I would also be worried about the side-effects of the stress and anxiety – palpitations and tension can cause a build-up of all manner of things, including gastric issues. Anxiety can be so bad sometimes that it can be mistaken for heart problems.

“Try to explain to him that a counsellor isn’t going to ‘mess with his head’ at all. Counselling simply gives people the opportunity to talk through their worries, problems and fears, whilst listening in an understanding, caring and non-judgmental way. They can also talk through coping strategies that can be very effective for panic attacks. It may also be that the doctor could end up referring him for psychotherapy if he doesn’t find a way of managing this anxiety. What is needed is to find a way to help him manage and to possibly get to the root cause of the problem.

“Reassure your husband that there is nothing to be ashamed about and, more and more, we are recognising mental health issues as just as important, debilitating and disabling as physical issues. Men’s mental health is an increasing concern – and, during lockdown and the pandemic, it has reached epidemic proportions. Your husband really isn’t alone.

Read: Learning to control your breathing

“In order to help him understand, I suggest you look at the website for Australia Counselling where you will find a range of information. There are helpful articles on what counselling is, as well as information on anxiety and what exactly it is that might help you to understand what he is going through. Australia Counselling can also help you to identify trained counsellors in your area – have a look through their profiles and see if there are any you feel comfortable with.

“Once your husband understands what is involved, perhaps he will be willing to contact a counsellor directly or contact his doctor again for a referral. He should do so anyway if the medication isn’t working, as there are many different types that help in different ways.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

What advice would you give in this situation? Have you ever experienced a panic attack? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

– With PA

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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