As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Fatherhood is a critical phase of life for many men that can change a man’s outlook on life and can also influence their mental wellbeing.
It is important to understand the mental health challenges fathers face to better safeguard the mental health of fathers and their families.
How does fatherhood positively influence the mental health of men?
There are many positive, fulfilling aspects of fatherhood that can build up the mental health of men, these include:
Identity, purpose and meaning: fatherhood can give men a greater sense of purpose and meaning, as they live beyond themselves, building and empowering their families.
A greater sense of productivity: fatherhood comes with expanded responsibilities and this can spur fathers into being more productive as they work for their families.
Greater mental flexibility and adaptability: the challenges of raising children and juggling work and family responsibilities can build up a man’s mental flexibility and ability to adapt to life’s challenges and solve problems as they come.
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An expanded vision for himself and his family: fatherhood can expand a man’s vision for himself and for his family, building, guiding and empowering the next generation.
Stronger family bonds: engaged, involved fathers enjoy warm, reciprocal relationships with their children and families. Fathers can help build strong family bonds which in turn can provide a support system for fathers themselves.
What mental health challenges can fathers face?
Fatherhood can come with its challenges and this can compromise a man’s mental wellbeing, these include:
Stress and anxiety: fatherhood can come with unfamiliar and sometimes anxiety provoking situations.
From pregnancy complications, childbirth, children falling ill to guiding adolescents and young people through the issues of life, a father will face challenges that can result in excessive stress.
Studies have shown that common stressors fathers face include worries about finances and being able to provide for their families; challenges with evolving responsibilities that occur throughout the course of raising children; fears about repeating the mistakes of their own fathers.
Depression: fathers have been found to have an elevated risk of depression compared to men without children of similar age.
This risk is associated with lack of social support, relationship difficulties particularly with the mother of their child; previous challenges with depression; illness affecting their children.
Depression in men often presents differently than with women and is often seen as anger, overworking, emotional numbness and social withdrawal as well as excessive alcohol use or substance misuse.
Alcohol and substance misuse: men have a higher risk of developing alcohol and substance use problems and stress that father’s face maybe a precipitator for excessive use of alcohol.
Alcohol and substances can sadly also be used to self-medicate anxiety and depression.
What can we do as a society and as a nation to promote the mental health and wellbeing of fathers?
Building social support structures for fathers: studies have shown that over 30% of men report that they feel like they have no one to turn to or ask about their challenges with fatherhood.
Many fathers may also not have many role models of good fatherhood and there is a great need for support groups and mentorship opportunities for fathers.
Fathers also need to be acknowledged and affirmed as they strive to build, guide and empower their families.
Building father friendly work environments: for fathers to be engaged they need support from work places and from the community.
Supporting family friendly working hours for men, promoting work life balance can help men to be engaged and involved with their children and families.
Supporting and affirming engaged fathers in the workplace is also needed.
Adapting mental health services to accommodate men better: health workers may often under recognise and underdiagnose mental health challenges in men and this can compromise the mental health of fathers.
Training health care workers to regularly screen men and fathers for common mental health problems and to recognise the different ways in which mental health challenges present in men can help in early detection of men’s mental health challenges.
This will help men and fathers get the help they need, this will help men and fathers thrive and in turn help families and communities to thrive.
If you think that you or a father that you know maybe struggling with mental health problems, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.
*Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback: WhatsApp: +263714987729