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Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being for New Fathers



By Dr. Darren D. Moore, Ph.D., Owner — I AM MOORE, LLC


Expectant parents hear the same thing time and time again: “Becoming a parent is the greatest feeling of joy you will ever experience in your life!” However, after the baby arrives, it doesn’t always feel that way.


New parents often experience complex emotions while adjusting to parenthood. And, while the focus of the discussion regarding these feelings is largely on mothers, new fathers often experience many of the same mental health issues.


Negative feelings among new fathers

One of the most common feelings experienced by fathers — particularly those who are first-time fathers — is stress, and it’s entirely understandable that parents often feel this way. After all, caring for a newborn child is a drastic lifestyle change that can quickly become exhausting. The result can be a feeling of “parental burnout” that can cause fathers to feel ineffective or perhaps even cause them to feel distanced from their children and partner.


The drastic changes associated with fatherhood can also contribute to feelings of anxiety among new fathers, which has been shown in some new fathers reporting cases of panic disorder. As new fathers are overwhelmed not only by their new responsibilities but also their existing ones, they can feel like they are not properly fulfilling their role as a father.


Although postpartum depression is a phenomenon generally associated with women, research is beginning to surface that shows men experience this condition as well. Due to a combination of factors — such as sleep deprivation, an inability to adjust to parenthood, a partner’s depression, a feeling of disconnection from mom and baby, and even hormonal changes — men can be susceptible to the chemical changes in the brain that cause depression.


Why new fathers face these challenges

Part of the cause of these emotions in new fathers is the immense financial pressure that comes with parenthood. Studies show the average cost per year of raising a child in the United States is just over $20,000, with costs coming in at well over $30,000 in some of the most expensive cities in the country. The result is that the cost of raising a child born in 2015 until the age of 17, when adjusted for inflation, is estimated to be around $310,605. For many parents, this is a staggering statistic and one that can often be a source of stress and anxiety.


At the same time, fathers face inconsistent and unfair expectations of what their role in parenthood should be, as new fathers are commonly expected to balance their duties of being a spouse and father with the need to provide for their families financially. Although there is a need for reform regarding parental leave for both mothers and fathers, more support is typically provided to mothers. When parental leave is made available, fathers are less likely to utilize it due to the stigma that currently exists in society.


Researchers have found that while mothers may take up to 12 weeks off from work with or without pay, fathers tend to only take around one week off for the birth of their child. This shows that while mothers may be given more time to care for and bond with their new child (though not always with pay), society generally expects fathers to “get back to work.” This invalidates fathers and robs them of their identity and dignity. Instead, fathers should be supported and provided with opportunities to be present with their family during pregnancy and birth.


A lack of resources and support

Fathers should be provided with resources as they transition into fatherhood and as they work to support their spouse during pregnancy and beyond. Instead, they are often discouraged from asking for help.


As such, men often bottle up their feelings and ignore them until they feel completely overwhelmed. Unfortunately, traditional values of masculinity — which give way to toxic masculinity — have ingrained in men that they should be strong and should avoid seeking help and being emotionally vulnerable. This may contribute to isolation and, at times, anxiety and depression.


Although rates of depression are reported to be higher among women than men, it is believed that the number of men suffering from depression is drastically underreported because men do not report having mental health issues. Statistics show that men fall victim to suicide at rates of over four times more than women, making it clear that men do not ask for the help they need.


Becoming a parent should be a time of joy for fathers. Yet, the unfair expectations society has of fathers — coupled with the toxic masculinity that prevents many fathers from asking for the help they need — have caused fathers to suffer. By better understanding the mental health issues that men face, we can help them become happier and healthier in their journey to and through fatherhood.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren D. Moore, Ph.D., MAED, LMFT, is a Father, Husband, Clinical Professor, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He owns I AM MOORE, LLC, a counseling and consulting practice in Georgia providing individual, couple, family, and group therapy services in GA, AL, NY, NC, IL, and FL, as well as consulting across the United States. Dr. Moore currently serves as the Associate Director for Clinical Training and Supervision in the master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Family Institute, Northwestern University. His areas of expertise include fatherhood and fatherlessness, higher education administration, workplace and mental health, men’s health, mental health, couple, and family relationships, and obesity, weight loss, eating disorders, and mental health. Dr. Moore obtained his Ph.D. in Human Development: Marriage and Family Therapy from Virginia Tech, his MS. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University, his BA. in African American Studies from the University of Minnesota, and holds a MAED in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Moore has been featured on various television stations as well as Newsweek and Men's Health.


Photo by Danik Prihodko

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