Crnic: Don’t forget about fathers’ mental health

As the director of ASU’s Parent-Child Relations Lab, it seems appropriate to me that Father’s Day would come after Mother’s Day — moms are typically the primary caregivers, and dad comes next.

Keith Crnic

I see it reflected in the research world as well, where studies into fathers’ mental health are second to research into the same area for mothers.

While it is vitally important to continue our understanding of motherhood and the consequences of its many challenges, it is equally important to attend to the mental health of fathers, because it is far too easy for this half of the two-parent dyad to go uncared for. And the consequences of this neglect can last long after childhood has ended.

The impact was clear to me and my five siblings growing up.

My father dealt with a bipolar disorder that had been misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, and the results were a chaotic childhood where the six of us never knew if Dad was going to come home in a glowing mood or a dark and angry one.

This highlights an important distinction: being a stressed parent versus dealing with parenting stress.

Certainly, mental illness is a stressor for fathers and their children. But even a tough day at work can come home with any father, which makes for a stressed parent.

Contrast this with parenting stress, which arises in the home: dealing with a temperamental child, refereeing sibling fights, finding a babysitter on short notice, etc. All of this is typical to the parenting experience, but research shows that when fathers are continually stressed by parenting activities, there can be a rise in mental health issues for both fathers and children.

While mothers still tend to bear most of the responsibility for childcare, fathers are not immune to the challenges of raising children.

In fact, we see from research that the stress accrued through the parenting process is near equal for fathers as it is for mothers.

There is evidence that men can also suffer from depression related to childbirth similar to women, and it can have a significant impact on their interactions with their child and spouse.

With added financial burdens, new responsibilities, and a fundamental shift in the marital relationship, men risk becoming distressed, even depressed.

Parenting is a challenge under even the best circumstances.

Thankfully, we live in a time when, perhaps more than ever before, fathers everywhere are recognizing the importance of their role and are more committed to being engaged as fathers and raising mentally and emotionally healthy children. But we should keep in mind the challenges they face to do so, even though they tend not to talk about the struggles they face.

So, this Father’s Day, tell your dad how grateful you are for the great job he did when you know it wasn’t easy. It will mean more than you know, more even than that box of new golf balls.

And if you’d like to give a gift that can help fathers everywhere, consider a donation in your father’s name to the Institute for Mental Health Research.

With your help, we can discover the strategies will help the next generation of parents and children alike live a life free from the burden of mental illness. And it all starts with research.

Visit imhr.org to learn more.

Editor’s Note: Keith Crnic is the director of the Parent-Child relations lab at Arizona State University and CEO of the Institute for Mental Health Research.

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