How Mental Health Can Affect You and Your Family
By: Emily Stevens
When you enter fatherhood, you become one of your child’s first role models, teachers, and friends. Because of this, your mental health is critical to the well-being of, not just you, but your entire family.
Now, the topic of men’s mental health has had a stigma surrounding it for years. Men have been conditioned to worry that talking about their mental health might be seen as weak or selfish. This isn’t true, though. Everybody, men included, deals with mental health issues, just like they deal with their physical health.
Unfortunately, because of this stigma, fathers are often unprepared for this after the birth of their children. Research has found that dads experience massive hormonal changes as their body prepares for fatherhood. These changes increase men’s sensitivity to crying, allows them to form a deeper emotional bond with their child, and gives them a more profound capacity to tend to another’s needs. However, these changes may also leave men vulnerable to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or mood disorders.
Paternal Postpartum Depression
Due to the multitude of hormonal and lifestyle changes that come with parenthood, fathers can find themselves struggling with postpartum depression, just like mothers. Paternal postpartum depression is a major depressive disorder that happens to a father soon after the birth of a child. Research has estimated that approximately 10% of new fathers may experience paternal postpartum depression, with the 3rd through 6th month postpartum period being the most common time for symptoms to appear.
Paternal postpartum depression can have detrimental consequences if left untreated.
The signs of paternal postpartum depression include:
● Substance use
● Violent behavior
● Drastic changes in eating habits or weight
● Drastic changes to sleep
● Social isolation
● Impulsive or risk-taking behaviors
● Brain fog and loss of motivation
● Increased stress or anxiety
● Loss of interest in activities that usually bring you joy
● Feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, or overwhelm
● Thoughts of suicide
How Your Mental Health Affects Your Family
Men often avoid seeking help for their mental health for fear of appearing weak or selfish. However, this way of thinking can prevent you from seeking the support you and your family need. When your mental health is struggling, chances are your family’s mental health will begin to struggle, as well. As your mental health declines, your relationships with your co-parent/spouse and children may begin to decline, as well.
Research has suggested that children with fathers who have mental health issues are more likely to have their own issues regarding both their mental health and social well-being. Fathers with poor mental health may have problems creating a healthy and loving environment for their children until they learn healthy coping mechanisms to get them through their own mental health issues. When a father is unable to cope with their negative thoughts and emotions, in a healthy way, the whole family may begin to feel stressed, anxious, and irritable.
Yet another reason it is crucial to take care of your mental health as a parent is that your children look to you to learn how to regulate their emotions, build relationships, and cope with tough situations. Learning healthy coping mechanisms can be critical to the well-being of both you and your family.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
As a parent, it can be difficult to justify taking the time to care for yourself. However, looking after yourself is one of the most important things you can do for your entire family. Taking charge of your mental health and overall well-being can ensure that you can be the best father you can be for your children. Some simple tips to improve your mental health include:
Taking care of your physical health. Yes, your physical health plays a key role in your mental health. That is why it is crucial to do the small things to care for your body, like eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
Doing the things that bring you joy. Just because you become a parent does not mean that you have to give up your hobbies. Make the time to do hobbies that bring you peace and happiness.
Set boundaries on things that leave you stressed or drained. Do you find yourself upset after catching up on the latest news stories? Does work leave you feeling exhausted? Set boundaries to create a healthy work-life balance. Boundaries can help you prioritize the things that make you truly happy.
Practice relaxation techniques. You don’t have to go to a week-long meditation retreat to relax. A few simple exercises, like yoga, breath work, meditation, or even just taking a walk in nature, can help bring you peace and stress relief.
Finding Help for Mental Health
If you have found challenges with your mental health, it is okay to seek help. When your throat hurts, or your body is aching, you seek the help of a doctor, so why would you not provide your mind with the same treatment?
Most men find difficulty with seeking help for their mental health. They may have been conditioned to believe that mental health issues couldn’t happen to them, or that it makes them appear weak. However, mental health issues can impact anyone, even you.
Seeking help for your mental health is not weak or selfish. It can be one of the most important things you can do to build a happy, healthy, and strong family. If you have been struggling with intrusive thoughts, stress, or any other emotions that are negatively impacting your quality of life, it is crucial to know that you do not have to face these struggles alone. Reach out to your doctor or find a mental health professional to speak to.
A few sources to learn more about finding help for your mental health include:
National Suicide Prevention LifeLine - 1(800) 273-8255
Emily Stevens is a mother and writer with a passion for raising awareness around mental health.