Fatherhood and mental health How one fathers his children can also be influenced by his mental wellbeing and can consequently have an impact on his own mental health as well.

Chido MadzvamutseMental Wellness

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. 

Fathers play a pivotal role in families and communities and influence the mental wellbeing of children significantly. 

How one fathers his children can also be influenced by his mental wellbeing and can consequently have an impact on his own mental health as well. 

It is critical that people understand how fatherhood can help promote mental wellbeing of families, communities and fathers themselves. 

How do fathers affect the mental health of children and families?

Whether a father is biological, adoptive or stepping in for another father, they will have a great influence the development of children biologically, psychologically and socially. 

Involved or engaged fathers can help families to thrive, while disengaged, unresponsive and absent fathers can have a detrimental effect on children, their mothers and the family. 

Biological impact of fathers: children of engaged, involved caring fathers are often in better physical health. Fathers tend to play in energetic ways with their children and this also promotes good physical health. 

Disengaged or absent fathers can result in children who struggle with self-confidence and a positive self-identity. 

Emotional impact of fathers: children with present, involved, warm fathers tend to be more confident in themselves, they are better able to manage their emotions, are less prone to anxiety problems or depression and adjust better during adolescence. 

Engaged fathers also have a positive impact on the mental health of the mothers of their children, mothers are less stressed and this generally results in better family functioning. Disengaged or absent fathers can result in poor emotional wellbeing of children, stressed mothers and subsequently stressful, unhealthy home environments. 

Social impact of fathers: children of engaged fathers are better able to relate with other children and adults and are less likely to have behavioural problems. 

Having a disengaged father has been shown to increase the risk of poor academic performance, alcohol and substance use problems. Less involvement of fathers has also been shown to increase the risk of early sexual debut and risk of teenage pregnancy. 

Disengaged fathers also increase the risk of exploitation and abuse of children, increasing the risk of physical or sexual abuse by almost five times. 

Impact of fatherhood on men’s mental health

Transition into fatherhood: becoming a father is a joyous occasion but can come with some stress from the expansion of responsibilities and anxieties of the changing role it comes with. 

In many situations it may be difficult for a new father to open up and talk about any stress or anxiety or fear they may be experiencing. 

Strong family relationships: engaged, involved fathers however, will enjoy warm, reciprocal relationships with their children and this is protective for mental health. 

Success is not just about financial or career success but it also involves building strong relationships that help to build social support system. 

A strong sense of purpose and increased productivity: Fathers who are involved and engaged with their children and families have been seen to be more productive and focused in their work, for themselves and their children.

Barriers to engaged fatherhood

There are many factors that can make it difficult for a father to be engaged and involved with his children and these include:

 Poor mental health: When a father is struggling with depression or anxiety or an alcohol or substance use disorder, this can make it difficult to be warm and engaged with children and a family. If a father is not emotionally aware and unable to express his own emotions, this can make it difficult to be passionately engaged with his child. If a father is struggling with self-confidence, if he feels like he is failing to provide adequately, this also may affect his ability to relate well with his family. 

 Lack of social support: fathers often learn to be different from other men. If fathers do not have a support system or mentors, this process can be difficult. Many men do not have good relationships with their own fathers and this can have a negative impact on their own ability to be fathers. Difficult relationships with their spouse or the mother of their children may also make it difficult for fathers to remain engaged with their children, especially if they become estranged from their partner.

 Lack of father friendly work environments: for fathers to be engaged they do need support from work places and from the community. The lack of paternal leave and family friendly working hours for men, may make it difficult for men to be engaged and involved with their children and families. 

Fatherhood is a critical part of the health and wellbeing of men and their families. It is important that fathers are adequately supported in this role for families 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.

l Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist.

Feedback: (Dr. Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse Whatsapp+263714987729) (www.ahfoz.org; ahfoz@ahfoz.co.zw)

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