Fathers key to family mental health and well-being
Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse Mental Health
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 complex, but critical role that is essential to building a strong family.
As we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday, it is important to reflect on the key role fathers play in preserving and promoting the mental health of their families even in difficult times.
How do fathers positively influence the mental health of children and families?
Fathers are providers, caregivers, teachers, guides, leaders, companions and friends.
This multifaceted role means that fathers are a critical part of the health and well-being of children and families.
- A source of identity: many children and families derive a sense of identity from their fathers. A present, engaged father can help a child feel confident and sure of who they are.
- A source of emotional strength, support and stability: fathers who are emotionally aware and are emotionally engaged with their children and families can be a great source of emotional strength for their families.
- Protection from stress and anxiety: fathers who are mentally well, will be psychologically resilient and can be an emotional buffer for their families from the stress and challenges that families face.
This psychological safety and security is crucial for the mental health of their families.
Creating open, honest communication Engaged, involved fathers can create open and honest channels of communication in their families and this can strengthen the bonds in their families.
The impact of a father’s mental ill health on their children and family
Stress and anxiety
Stress is a physiological, psychological and behavioural response to the demands life makes on us and the pressure of life.
While pressure can be healthy and motivate men and fathers in life, too much stress; continued chronic stress and stress not properly managed can be detrimental to men and in turn this results in stressed families.
An anxious father cannot be a source of emotional strength or resilience for their family.
Chronic stress can result in burnout. Men are sadly often measured by what they do rather than who they are.
The ability to provide, to succeed financially can result in stress and burnout. Burnt out fathers may become disengaged and disconnected with their families leading to poor emotional and mental well-being.
While depression is more common in women than men, the later can and do become depressed and this can negatively impact their families.
When men are depressed they may express this in frustration, irritability, anger and aggression as many men may struggle with expressing challenging emotions or maybe socialised not to show emotions. This may then result in hostile treatment of their families, verbal aggression and sometimes even violence in homes which unfortunately can result in further social isolation and worsening of the depression. Depression can also cause some fathers to struggle to connect with their families emotionally. They may become emotionally detached from friends and family and this may result in breakdown of relationships and sometimes of families.
Alcohol and substance misuse: Men are at a higher risk of developing alcohol and substance use problems. Alcohol and substances can sometimes be used to “self-medicate” the emotional pain, sadness, insomnia and hopelessness that fathers may struggle with because of the challenges of life.
Alcohol and substances can be used to try and build up bravado or self-esteem or to overcome anxiety or cope with helplessness.
The effects of excessive alcohol use or of abusing substances can destroy men and fathers and sadly, their families.
Helping fathers to promote mental health and well-being in their families.
Supporting fathers and fatherhood
Fathers need support, affirmation and acknowledgement for them to thrive in fatherhood. As they thrive, families will thrive too.
Many men struggle to find help. Figuring out the challenges of fatherhood and support systems for fathers are an essential part of promoting mental well-being of fathers and families.
Supporting mental health care of men and fathers
For fathers to be engaged and involved with their children and create safe and stable homes, they need to be mentally well themselves.
Sadly, the mental health of males is often side lined to the detriment of men and to their families. Affordable, accessible, acceptable mental health services for men are a critical part of supporting and promoting their mental well-being and that of fathers.
Fatherhood is a critical part of the health and well-being 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: Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse Whatsapp+263714987729) (www.ahfoz.org ; [email protected])