Mental Health of Dads can Affect their Parenting

Michael E. Bernard, PhD
Emeritus Professor, California State University, Long Beach
Founder, You Can Do It! Education

Mental health of dads can affect their parenting
It’s not just mums who can suffer from pre and post-natal depression, dads are also at risk.

Researchers have mainly studied pre and post-natal depression in Mums in recent years. But new research findings show that dads’ mental health can also suffer in the transition to parenthood*.

For many men, the transition to fatherhood is a time of happiness, excitement and love. But it can also be a time of great upheaval and anxiety. The research found that the structured transition that tends to guide women’s experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and early parenting is lacking for expectant fathers. In the absence of such structure, expectant fathers in the study found themselves ‘in a kind of limbo … between social statuses, neither one thing nor the other‘.

Another Australian study of fathers-to-be found that ‘men struggled to come to terms with the reality of the pregnancy, their changing relationships and potential economic stability‘.

Risk factors in fathers associated with pre-natal and post-natal depression include:

  • ethnicity,
  • parenting stress, and
  • personality style.

Maternal depression and the quality of the marital relationship have also been associated with pre and post-natal depression in dads. Low social support is a risk factor that increases markedly for single, separated or divorced fathers. Men’s psychological state before and during pregnancy also appears to have a strong bearing on their likelihood of developing post-natal depression.

    • Anxiety in fathers has been associated with decreased warmth in father-child relationships, controlling parental behaviours,
      and a lack of assistance provided to children’s mothers.
    • Poor mental health can impact on parenting capacity and behaviour as well as parentchild relations, by contributing to discord or violence within families.
    • Mothers’ mental health problems were more closely related to younger children’s outcomes, while fathers’ had stronger effects
      on older children. This finding appears to reflect cultural norms, as mothers tend to act as primary caregivers during early development, and fathers become increasingly involved with child development
      as their kids mature.


*published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies

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“Poor mental health such as depression, can profoundly influence men’s understanding of themselves as fathers, the ways in which they communicate with their children and others about the illness, their efforts at selfmanaging their illness, and their help-seeking behaviours."

Michael Bernard

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