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Parenthood is one of life’s greatest joys. For working fathers balancing career commitments and fatherhood responsibilities, it can also increase stress, anxiety, burnout, and other mental health challenges.
As a father of a nine-month-old and a three-year-old, I understand firsthand the tremendous challenge of balancing work and home life. The constant need to switch between contrasting environments amplifies my pressure and anxiety. Some days, exhaustion overtakes me, affecting my performance at work.
My personal experience and struggles as a new father reflect those of millions of others worldwide, underscoring the importance of prioritizing men's mental health support in the workplace.
International Fathers' Mental Health Day offers a valuable opportunity to strengthen men's mental health awareness, normalize conversations around it, defeat men’s mental health stigma, and ensure employees have access to compassionate support.
The mental health challenges faced by working fathers
According to a survey by Ipsos, in partnership with the non-profit organization Movember, 70% of men reported increased stress levels within 12 months of becoming fathers.
Unfortunately, many working fathers are experiencing mental health challenges, including symptoms of depression, without seeking help. Compared to women, men are only half as likely to proactively address their mental health despite the significant impact it can have on their well-being.
Data suggests that approximately 25-40% of men hide signs of mental health challenges from their managers or co-workers, fearing that acknowledging these issues could negatively affect their careers.
Addressing mental health challenges can be particularly challenging for men, as they may find it difficult to openly acknowledge their struggles and share their emotions in the workplace. This often leads to coping with suppression and isolation.
How paternal postpartum depression affects working fathers
Paternal postpartum depression (PPD) is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD) that often manifests shortly after the birth of a child. The postpartum period brings about significant life-altering changes for fathers, making them more susceptible to experiencing depression.
Research by Jonathan R. Scarff, M.D., published in the Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience Journal, reveals that approximately 8 to 10% of new fathers experience paternal PPD. The prevalence of paternal PPD is highest within the first 3 to 6 months after childbirth. However, it can develop over a period of up to a year, extending beyond the initial four weeks postpartum.
Studies indicate that paternal PPD impacts a father's ability to provide positive support for the mother and the baby during the first year after childbirth. Symptoms of paternal PPD may include irritability, indecisiveness, a limited range of emotions, and feelings of depression.
5 ways employers can support men’s mental health
Recognizing the importance of supporting working fathers, employers must invest in new workplace initiatives prioritizing men’s mental health awareness and promoting a healthier work-life balance.
Research shows that when employers actively support working fathers in their transition to parenthood, it reduces acute stress and increases the likelihood of men seeking help for their mental health needs in a timely manner rather than waiting until the situation worsens.
Here are five key strategies employers can implement to transform workplace culture and foster a supportive environment for men’s mental health.
One-on-one parent coaching gives employers an excellent opportunity to provide direct support for the well-being of working fathers. This personalized and preventive care approach assists men in navigating the dynamic experience of raising kids while balancing their personal and professional responsibilities, ultimately leading to improved cognitive function at work.
With the help of trained and credentialed coaches, employers can identify the underlying sources of men's mental health challenges and guide employees in obtaining the appropriate assistance swiftly.
Normalize mental health conversations
Employers must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to workplace well-being to increase engagement, buy-in, and adoption of strategies supporting men’s mental health. Here are some effective strategies:
- Normalizing conversations: employers should lead by example and foster empathy and understanding regarding men’s mental health. Encouraging open dialogue and normalizing conversations about mental health can start with a People leader or a working father in a leadership role sharing their struggles. This act of bravery helps employees realize that they aren’t alone and that fellow fathers in the workplace have faced similar challenges.
- Establishing communication channels: creating new avenues for confidential communication is crucial for employees to feel comfortable sharing their struggles and experiences. Employers can implement company-wide communications that highlight men’s mental health support resources. Additionally, self-screening programs, employee feedback surveys, or dedicated employee resource groups (ERGs) focused on men’s mental health can provide safe spaces for discussions and support.
Provide paid paternity leave
According to an employee benefits survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a mere 21% of workers in the U.S. have access to paid paternity leave through their employers.
Additionally, research by Great Place to Work, a global firm studying workplace culture, revealed that the average length of paternity leave is only 17 days.
Furthermore, a study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicates that state-paid family leave policies improved parents’ mental health, helping to reduce depressive symptoms and improve the physical health of parents and their children.
Paternity leave gives new fathers invaluable time to bond with their new children and support their partners postpartum. By providing employees with the opportunity to focus on nurturing their children and supporting their spouses without the added stress of juggling multiple commitments, employers contribute to men’s mental health awareness and well-being.
Offer flexible work schedules
Flexibility in a work schedule is just as important and beneficial for working fathers as it is for working mothers. Allowing employees to work from home a few days a week to care for their newborn child, support their spouse, or attend therapy can help facilitate a healthier work-life balance.
According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, 34% of employees believe flexible hours would help their mental health.
A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study found that “Work flexibility is increasingly recognized as an essential determinant of workers’ well-being…Flexibility in terms of work location and schedule gives workers a sense of job control and increases their job satisfaction, thereby improving their health and well-being.”
Increase access to men’s mental health resources
Postpartum depression is widely recognized as a serious mental health issue affecting new mothers. Unfortunately, new fathers facing similar challenges aren’t taken as seriously, even though 1 in 10 suffer from paternal postpartum depression (PPD).
Paternal PPD has not received thorough attention in research and often goes undiagnosed. The good news is that recommended treatment for paternal PPD in men is similar to the treatment for postpartum depression in women. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), has been proven highly effective in addressing depression and other symptoms of PPD in men.
The need for comprehensive mental healthcare services for fathers has never been greater. A study by the American Psychological Association revealed that 82% of fathers reported needing more support than they received during the pandemic. Employers must provide a comprehensive mental health solution that includes access to providers specializing in men’s postpartum issues.
Embrace vulnerability in men’s mental health
As we recognize International Fathers' Mental Health Day, remember that it's perfectly okay for fathers not to be okay. True strength lies in acknowledging and embracing vulnerability.
The challenges faced in fatherhood are not emblematic of weakness or personal failure. Struggling is a common experience that doesn’t make one a poor parent. Many fathers go through similar difficulties.
For employers, the key challenge lies in fostering an environment where men’s mental health awareness is encouraged and openly discussed. People leaders have the power to be trailblazers, spearheading a massive shift in how organizations support working fathers.
Parent coaching can help new parents navigate the experience of raising kids, juggling personal needs, and being productive at work.