Fatherhood and mental illness

Fatherhood and mental illness

A review of key issues

Rhys Price-Robertson

CFCA Paper No. 30 — February 2015
Father carrying his toddler child

Key messages

Compared to many other life stages, the transition to fatherhood and the early years of childrearing are periods in which men are at a substantially increased risk of experiencing psychological distress.

The children of men with a mental illness are more likely than other children to experience internalising (i.e., emotional) and externalising (i.e., behavioural) problems, as well as to be diagnosed with a mental illness themselves.

Parenting behaviour is one of the mechanisms by which parental mental illness may translate into problem outcomes in children. Fathers with a mental illness are more likely than other fathers to show low levels of parental engagement, warmth and appropriate monitoring.

The scarce qualitative literature exploring fathers' experiences of mental illness suggests that fatherhood is central to the image many men have of themselves - their experience of mental illness and their paternal identity are inextricably linked.

Stigma is a significant source of suffering for many people with mental health concerns. Fathers with a mental illness can be subject to unique forms of stigma, which can influence their perceptions and experiences in a number of ways.

Psychiatric and welfare service providers in Australia and internationally have often struggled to effectively engage fathers, either failing to see men as members of a family unit, or failing to offer services tailored to their specific needs.

Researchers have traditionally paid little attention to the intersections between men’s mental illness and family life. Recently, however, this has been changing. This paper provides practitioners and policy-makers with a broad overview of some of the key issues identified in the growing literature on paternal mental illness.

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Please forgive the self-centredness of my anecdotal comment. Nearly 40 years ago I became a committed sole parent. It changed me. I became emotionally aware. And so began my struggle with gendered stigmatisation as a "secondary" (= inferior) parent. The lack of public acknowledgement of my equal value as a male parent plus the incessant barrage of a fashionable disdain for maleness, men and fathers contributed significantly, not just to recurrent depressive episodes, but also to their duration.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Rhys Price-Robertson is a PhD candidate at Monash University, where he is investigating the experiences of families affected by paternal mental illness. He previously worked as a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Special thanks to Brad Morgan, as well as the family members involved with Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI) who contributed their stories to this paper. Thanks also to Professor Lenore Manderson, Dr. Cameron Duff and Dr. Andrea Reupert for their generous feedback and support.

At the time of writing, Rhys Price-Robertson was a Senior Research Officer with the CFCA information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. He is currently a PhD candidate at Monash University, where he is investigating the experiences of families affected by paternal mental illness.

The feature image was supplied by the author.

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 30
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, February 2015.
24 pp.

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