Fathers, take care of your mental health

Fathers have a significant influence on the wellbeing of families and communities

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes 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.

Fathers have a significant influence on the wellbeing of families and communities. A father who is well physically, mentally and emotionally can help his family reach their full potential and build resilience in the face of challenges. However, the mental health and wellbeing of fathers is often neglected to the great detriment of the family unit and the greater community.

What factors affect the mental wellbeing of fathers?

  1. Social and cultural expectations: men in most cultures are expected to be stoic, unemotional and constantly strong.

This can put men under much pressure to avoid weakness or vulnerability in any form. Emotional wellbeing, however, requires vulnerability and ability to share emotional difficulties with trusted people.

  1. Social isolation and poor social support: Men often desire to be leaders and problem solvers and many men struggle to ask for help even when they desperately need it. Many men also struggle to form meaningful connections with others where they can share openly about their hopes, dreams, challenges and struggles. Some men even struggle to talk openly and transparently with their own wives and partners leaving them socially isolated and unsupported.
  2. Financial demands and poor work life balance: our societies often expect men to provide all the needs of their family, while this is a noble goal, when a family is facing difficult socioeconomic challenges, this expectation may put men under undue pressure.

Men may over work, do work that is unfulfilling and lose all sense of work life balance in order to put bread on the table.

This pressure may also make it difficult for fathers to ask for help from their wives or partners, family or friends as they try to always ‘make a plan’. Again because of this expectation and pressure, some men may also struggle if their wives or partners are earning more than them seeing this as emasculating.

Fathers may sadly be only valued in certain families and communities only by what they can contribute financially and this can lead to men tying their self worth to the amount of money they are able to earn, which in economic hardship can derail their mental wellbeing.

  1. Little support for involved fatherhood in workplaces: Effective fatherhood requires significant investment in time and effort. Being physically and emotionally available for the family is key to being a father.

Many workplaces, however see the business of child raising as women’s work and do not effectively support fathers who wish to be engaged with their children as they grow and develop. Most workplaces do not offer any paternal leave and few support effective levels of work life balance required for fathers to be present at school meetings, sports games or even to be at home for a family dinner every night.

  1. Little community support resources for educating and empowering men as fathers: while there are a some available resources available for women to learn about being good mothers in our societies and communities, there are barely any for men to learn about effective and fulfilling fatherhood. Many men are left to figure it out by themselves with little guidance if any from other men and fathers. This can make the experience of fatherhood bewildering and frustrating.

How does poor paternal mental health affect children and young people?

When fathers are struggling with their mental health they will often have poor stress management strategies, this may affect how they parent. They may become harsh with their children and their spouse.

They may become emotionally unavailable and emotionally numb, alienating themselves from the family and children.

Fathers may also become physically unavailable, opting to engage in activities away from the stresses that often come with parenting and life in the home. Alcohol and substance use may become a maladaptive coping mechanism to stress and difficult life situations for some fathers and addiction itself can become a mental health challenge.

Children of fathers who are struggling emotionally may consequently have challenges with:

  1. Physical and emotional development
  2. Regulating their emotions
  3. Insecurity and poor self esteem
  4. Forming stable relationships with others
  5. Behavioral challenges like aggression and risky behaviors like substance use or early and risky sexual behavior

How do I take care of my mental wellbeing as a father?

  1. Emotional awareness and vulnerability: honestly acknowledge the stresses and emotional challenges that you may be facing and be courageous to open up and be vulnerable to a trusted person or a trained professional about this
  2. Invest in real authentic, genuine and deep relationships with your spouse, family and friends so as to build a support network for yourself for good and challenging times. Resist the instinct to bottle up your emotions, or to become physically or emotionally unavailable when stressed
  3. Manage your self-talk, build your self esteem and sense of self worth. Often, we are own worst enemies, pulling ourselves down through our own negative thought patterns.
  4. Remember that manhood and fatherhood is more than just financial provision and work to define who you are outside of the money that you can earn. Work on your parenting skills and relationship skills to build meaningful and fulfilling connections with your children and family

Happy Father’s Day to all our fathers

If you think that you or a father that you know may be experiencing a mental health problem, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

*Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback on WhatsApp+263777727332)

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