Want To Be A Better Father? Look After Your Mental Health

It ain't easy having kids...

Want To Be A Better Father? Look After Your Mental Health

Image: Plugged in

It might seem obvious to suggest that a man’s mental health is intimately bound up with his ability to be a good father, but research on the area has been incredibly scarce…. until recently. In a long-overdue shift to the discourse around fatherhood, the close links between a father’s mental health and the health, happiness, and hopes of his children are finally being acknowledged.

Every father wants to achieve ‘cool dad’ status, but there’s a lot more to it than dressing well, staying in shape, and letting your teenage kids get away with a misdemeanour every so often… One aspect of being a stellar that is all too often overlooked is keeping a good handle on your mental health.

And with revolutionary new treatments just around the corner for Aussies, as well as an increasingly open and non-judgemental discourse around men’s mental health, there’s really no excuse for not engaging with and working on your mental health whenever you can. Especially when you’ve got ankle-biters to set an example for…

It goes without saying that fatherhood can be a challenging time for many men, and according to recent research, its a time often accompanied by an increased risk of psychological distress. A recent article by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) highlights the importance of men taking care of their mental health during the transition to fatherhood and the first few years of child-rearing.

In this article, we’ll explore the effect of a father’s mental health on his children and what can be done to support fathers in improving their mental health.

Fathers Are More At Risk Than Other Men

As we’ve already said – but given men’s tendencies to suppress these things – the transition to fatherhood can be a period of psychological distress for men, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that.

Men are at increased risk shortly after birth. Image: Nursing Practice

And this is true when compared to pretty much every other stage of life – nothing brings about more change to your lifestyle, more responsibilities, or more demands on your time and energy than having a kid.

In fact, according to the AIFS, 1 in 10 expecting or new dads experience perinatal anxiety or depression in Australia, with a staggering 56% of these blokes never seeking support. Sadly, 43% of first-time dads believe postnatal depression and anxiety are signs of weakness.

We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: that’s ridiculous – there’s no shame in struggling or seeking help.

How Does A Father’s Mental Health Effect His Kids

Children’s wellbeing goes hand-in-hand with their father’s mental health.

Research shows that fathers who are sensitive, supportive, and actively work on their own mental health have children who develop better social and language skills – this is true regardless of socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity.

On the other hand, when fathers experience mental illness, their children are at higher risk of behavioural and emotional difficulties. For the record, this is basically identical to the risk posed by mothers with mental illness.

Mental health issues can result in symptoms like unexpected or unexplained anger, aggressiveness, irritability and frustration. In more extreme cases, it can even lead to issues with substance misuse.

Though everyone’s mental health rears its head in unique ways, trouble concentrating, persistent feelings of worry, and engagement in unnecessarily high-risk activities, are a few other outcomes that can concern others or get in the way of daily life.

It doesn’t just affect the dads… Image: Getty

Perhaps the most unfortunate result of all of this is that it’s not just the father himself who suffers: Fathers with a mental illness are more likely than others to show low levels of parental engagement, warmth towards their kid or appropriate monitoring and supervision. It might sound obvious, but this can negatively impact their children’s well-being and development if left to fester.

Let us be clear here: you’re not a worse parent for having mental health issues – they can emerge for myriad reasons beyond your control – but you are putting your children at risk by not actively engaging with your mental health, communicating your feelings, and seeking help.

What Can You Do To Improve Your Mental Health and Be A Better Father?

Luckily, the discourse around men’s mental health has never been more vibrant, and avenues for working on your mental health have never been more readily available.

Here, we lay out a couple of resources you could use to help yourself through life’s challenging periods, and some changes we’d like to see in the wider world that might benefit the mental health of Aussie dads…

First up is International Fathers’ Mental Health Day (IFMHD), an annual global event launched in 2016 which supports men as they transition to parenthood. The event not only highlights the importance of addressing male mental health, but offers a number of resources you can use. Including…

In terms of what needs to change in the wider world for father’s to better understand their mental health and, we hope in turn, improve their relationship with their kids, here are a few of our thoughts:

Firstly, services for new parents need to routinely address fathers’ mental health. At present, this simply isn’t happening, with many services tilting their emphasis strongly in favour of mothers. Obviously, mothers go through a hell of a lot too, so we’re asking for men’s support in addition to the provision for women, not at their cost…

Education is key. Image: Getty

Secondly, parents should be offered more support around co-parenting to help them get on the same parenting page. Much of the mental stress when it comes to parenting can actually arise from learning how best to parent alongside someone else – and absorbing their struggles with the new role – rather than from the kids themselves.

Lastly, fathers should be better engaged in parenting support services to give them strategies for parenting confidently, as well as being better educated on the topic in their own early-life education and schooling. Remember the last time your teacher taught you how to change a nappy or go six weeks without a decent sleep? Didn’t think so.

A note of caution: It’s also essential to make sure that fathers seek support and advice from credible sources. According to a survey, 76% of fathers looked for information and advice about raising their children online, while around 66% used books. These are both great starts, but never be afraid to broaden your horizons or speak to someone IRL.

All in all, though mental health issues are more prevalent than ever, there’s also never been a better time to seek help – the resources available are endless, and judgement levels are at an all-time low. And if you still can’t face the idea of seeking help, then try to remember: if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the sprogs.