Many fathers understandably struggle to keep up with the demands of marriage, parenthood, employment, and their other responsibilities. Popular misleading messages surrounding the role of fathers as stoic, strong, and capable providers discourage many from seeking support for mental health concerns. Therapy, however, can be vital to not only a father’s well-being, but their entire family’s well-being. Learn more about paternal mental health in this perceptive Q&A with Thrive Wellness Reno Therapist Brett Glanzmann, MFT.
What mental health concerns do fathers commonly face?
Time, physical energy, and emotional energy are limited resources. When a family experiences a sudden increase in the demand for those resources, fathers may find it difficult to “keep all the plates spinning.” In order to conserve more time and energy for parenthood, fathers often sacrifice their self-care and replenishing activities, which places them at risk for mental health concerns. Many of my clients in fatherhood report lack of sleep, stress, anxiety, and depression.
The mental health struggles of single fathers are similar to those of partnered fathers except that their stresses can be magnified and their resources can be limited. Research shows that single fathers are twice as likely to report poor mental and physical health as fathers with partners. While single mothers tend to have more financial stress, single fathers carry more caregiving stress.
What are some contributing factors to the mental health challenges experienced by fathers?
Fathers frequently feel overwhelmed by what feels like having “the weight of the world” on their shoulders. Some report experiencing a loss of control over their lives and immediate environments. Many work during the day and arrive home in the evening to help with household tasks and parenting duties. They may only find time for themselves after everyone else has gone to sleep. When alone, they might engage in unhealthy “escapist” activities, such as excessively playing video games, watching television for hours into the night, or turning to substance use. These engagements may temporarily distract them from their worries, but do little to nourish their well-being. Fathers may also work extended hours because it feels less stressful than being at home.
Another source of paternal mental health concerns is the changing nature of the partner relationship. As time and energy are diverted toward their children, many couples are unable to prioritize their relationships. Typically, the amount of quality time couples spend together decreases and sexual activity is put on hold. As a result, marital satisfaction can decline and conflict can heighten.
Regarding single fathers, many are less than confident in their abilities to comfort their children through struggles and lack another person to share the emotional burden with. Often, single fathers face additional stress resulting from disagreements and custody disputes with their children’s biological mothers. Further, single fathers who care for their children full-time may be incredibly hard-pressed to find time to relax and recharge on their own.
Why might some fathers be hesitant to seek mental health support?
In childhood, boys are commonly told to “man up” and “walk it off” when faced with distressing circumstances. Many learn to adopt the mistaken narrative that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. This cultural conditioning can prevent developing males and grown men from acknowledging and communicating their feelings, particularly those that are troublesome. Fathers may feel as if they must adhere to the culturally prescribed paternal identity of “protector of the family.” Due to these prominent ideas about masculinity and fatherhood, many fathers place their partners’ and child(ren’s) mental, emotional, and physical well-being before their own.
A stigma exists around fathers who are struggling with mental health. Fathers may be discouraged from seeking help because they feel as if they should be able to handle their own problems. Even though seeking mental health support is becoming more acceptable for women and mothers, men and fathers seem to be lagging behind in the movement for mental wellness.
How can fathers know when they should seek professional help?
When a father’s mental health deteriorates, they typically notice that other aspects of their life are negatively affected, especially their relationships with their partner and child(ren). The struggle to maintain healthy connections with those closest to them can cause their mental health to further suffer. By being honest with themselves about their struggles, fathers can disrupt this negative cycle and seek professional support before their mental health challenges become severe.
Fathers should seek mental health support when they notice:
- Increased irritability
- Disruptions in sleep
- Diminished work performance
- Increased participation in “escapist” activities, such as excessively playing video games, watching television for hours on end, or using substances.
- An inability to cope with stress
Many fathers tend to minimize their struggles in relation to the concerns their partners or child(ren) may be facing, but they too deserve to address, heal, and nourish their mental health.
How can fathers benefit from receiving mental health support?
Fathers need support in their journeys just as much as anyone else. Mental health professionals can help both partnered fathers and single fathers prepare for the inevitable challenges that come with parenthood and develop strategies for balancing competing demands. In my own practice, my clients often lean on me for emotional support in their endeavor to balance their lives as they may not be able to find validation and guidance elsewhere. Therapy, both for individuals and couples, can also help single fathers and partnered fathers navigate different kinds of family systems, cultivate and maintain strong bonds within families, and ensure that both parents recognize the importance of each others’ roles in helping the family thrive.
What are some simple day-to-day practices that fathers can do to support their mental health?
Emotional energy is a limited resource, so fathers should regularly engage in activities that recharge them. These may include reading, meditating, or spending one-on-one time with their children.
Openly and honestly communicating with one’s partner or support system can also be a refreshing experience. For single fathers, it’s vital that they develop a support system, possibly made up of extended family and friends. While vulnerability may not come easily, having a few people with whom they can let down their guard can diffuse some of the pressures they face.
For fathers with partners, I recommend that they have daily check-ins with their parenting partners. During these check-ins, partners should discuss their current energy levels and any possible schedule adjustments that might be helpful.
MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT FOR FATHERS AT THRIVE WELLNESS
Mental health concerns can hinder fathers from reaching their full potential as parents, husbands, and humans. Thrive Wellness therapists can guide fathers in discovering the root causes of their mental health challenges, learning healthy coping skills, and implementing actions to encourage overall well-being. Reach out to learn more.
About the Contributor
Thrive Wellness Reno Therapist Brett Glanzmann, MFT
Brett Glanzmann, MFT, earned his master’s degree in counseling from the University of Nevada, Reno. He offers individual, couples, and family therapy, believing that people possess the resources required to maximize their quality of life. Brett has a specific passion for helping all types of couples rediscover their unique connection while growing in their communication skills. He enjoys helping his clients pursue meaning in their everyday lives, removing the obstacles that hinder growth and thriving. Brett also enjoys inclusive, faith-based counseling, having over 20 years of pastoral counseling experience in the Truckee Meadows.