Dads' Mental Health is Often Overlooked—This Needs to Change

drawing of little girl comforting her dad

Verywell / Laura Porter

Key Takeaways

  • More than six million men deal with depression.
  • Some dads experience perinatal depression and perinatal anxiety.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the door to more discussion about the importance of mental health and treating mental health issues.

More than six million men suffer from depression each year. They experience loss of interest in work, irritability, fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness. Dads specifically have even more unique mental health experiences, with up to 10% of fathers experiencing perinatal depression and up to 15% experiencing perinatal anxiety.

However, men are less likely to receive a mental health diagnosis than women.

“What’s important to understand, is that men are no different from women, children, grandparents, whomever. They suffer mental health issues; they just don’t talk about it as much. And I think society doesn’t talk about it and doesn’t want to recognize it,” states Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center. 

With men in particular, with fathers even more, there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility,” she adds. And those responsibilities, along with the inability to freely discuss their stresses and pressures they feel, can make men less likely to share their struggles.

Society often misses the mark in helping men, and dads in particular, deal with mental health struggles. We take a look at how we culturally approach mental health in fathers, and what needs to change.

Men and Mental Health

In the United States, almost 16% of men reported dealing with mental disorders in 2020. Research shows that only about half of them received treatment. Although options to get help are available, a big part of the problem is society's perception of men who are struggling.

“They’re under a lot of pressure to not have mental illness, not have mental health issues, not feel emotionally exhausted or emotionally compromised,” Dr. Mendez explains.

In addition to pressures outside the home with work and community obligations, dads also handle responsibilities juggling family duties. And in the past couple of years, COVID-19 has added another layer of concerns.

Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT

They’re under a lot of pressure to not have mental illness, not have mental health issues, not feel emotionally exhausted or emotionally compromised.

— Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT

“One thing that I do think is challenging is men and individuals are coping themselves through a very difficult time—the pandemic,” states Nathaan Demers, PsyD, VP of Clinical Programs and Strategic Partnerships at Grit Digital Health.

“Being a parent is really increasing the stress that folks are coping with, because they’re also trying to help their children navigate what has been a very very different, difficult couple of years,” he notes. 

Historically, the mandate for men who are struggling is to "man up." This carries the connotation of not showing emotion and burying their feelings instead. It also perpetuates the thought of weakness in a man who expresses pain.

The problem is that if men can’t speak about their pain, they won’t have a way to begin to process and deal with it. With dads, it not only impacts his own life, but also his children's lives.

The Impact of Dad's Mental Health

Research shows that children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. Watching the symptoms of a father’s mental health struggles—whether it’s sadness, frustration, anger, or isolation—can impact a child in a number of ways.

“Whenever a parent is struggling with mental health issues and they’re not really getting help to work through their struggle, it’s going to be reflected out to their children,” Dr. Mendez says.

“It can have impacts on the emotional development of the child, and that would be speaking much more to how they regulate their own emotions.”

If a dad is not dealing with his issues, he can experience problems with his physical health, develop alcohol or substance abuse addictions, and battle high levels of stress.

Kids have a front row seat to what is happening, and in turn can decide that what they are seeing is the appropriate way to process their pain. It can lead to a child having behavioral problems, struggling with anger, and performing poorly in school.

However, if a father chooses to explain his mental health challenges to his child in a way the child can understand, the situation could be one of learning, growth, and bonding for the family.

“If I’m coping with anxiety or depression as a father, and I’m open with my child about that and talk about the challenges of my condition, share, and let them into my treatment, that can be transformative for that youth,” explains Dr. Demers.

A parent’s decision on how to handle their own problems dictates how it will impact the child.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all and I think we really as a culture have to make sure that we are not talking about it as if it is,” Dr. Demers notes.

Solutions and Resources

Experts say the tide is changing regarding mental health and getting treatment. The pandemic lockdown has led to an increased awareness of various mental health struggles, which has increased awareness of available resources.

In fact, there are resources focused on understanding what dads are going through and offering them help. Fathers Mental Health, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, Therapy for Black Men, and Man Therapy are websites filled with information to help dads on their journey to mental well-being.

Nathaan Demers, PsyD

One of the key solutions is making sure that men and adults caring for anyone are taking the time to take care of themselves.

— Nathaan Demers, PsyD

Being more active outdoors, exploring new environments, spending time with loved ones, and seeing a therapist can also help dads deal with mental health struggles.

Men also need to make self-care a priority. “One of the key solutions is making sure that men and adults caring for anyone are taking the time to take care of themselves,” Dr. Demers notes. “That’s something that unfortunately has not been prioritized enough.”

Society needs to work to normalize mental health issues among fathers and offer them the support they need to improve their mental health.

“It’s not that there’s a group of people that needs mental health services and a group that doesn’t,” Dr. Demers concludes. “Mental health is for everyone.”

What This Means For You

Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health. It’s an important, integral part of your well-being. As fathers get the help that they need, their families should support and encourage them. It will benefit not only dad, but the family as a whole.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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