Study finds good fathers are healthier
Many people believe that children’s relationship with their parents benefits only the child. A new study performed by a UH researcher created an opposition to this belief.
The research indicates that the more a father is involved with his children and family, the more he is benefiting his children’s lives and also his own mental health and well-being.
Daphne Hernandez, an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance, performed her research during a span of five years and received data from 5,000 fathers (single, cohabitating and married) between the ages of 25 and 35 who were considered at risk of becoming absent dads. All of the fathers had young children and lived in close proximity to their partner in order to have frequent interaction with their children. The health status of the fathers was self-measured by a survey.
“The role of a father comes with such high expectations before you factor in complications such as finances, proximity or pre-existing health issues,” Hernandez said in a UH press release. “Supporting his mental health is an important way to support the whole family.”
The study showed that the fathers who were more physically engaged with their children, played with them and read to them were less likely to be depressed or stressed. In addition, fathers who had a supportive partner or a former partner had better mental and physical health compared with those who had less supportive partners.
Hernandez’s study also depicted that during the five years of research, the rate of single fatherhood increased and was 45 percent by year five. As this rate increased, the involvement with their children decreased. In addition, there was an increased risk of drug use and depression with these fathers.
“Personally, my father sacrifices so much as a parent for my future that it makes me want to excel and later be able to support him,” said biology junior Sanah Rahman.
“I definitely believe that fathers who physically engage with their children are less likely to be depressed or stressed because at the end of a hard working day, they know all that work was not for nothing. It was for their kids.”
According to Hernandez, the fathers who became single fathers or who experienced strain in their roles as fathers were associated with an increased likelihood of becoming clinically depressed. This dynamic is concerning because mental illness is stigmatizing, and a number of socio-economically disadvantaged men do not have the means to receive mental health assistance.
“An association that I had always wondered about was whether there is a bidirectional relationship between father engagement and mental health,” Hernandez said. “In my study, I found that greater engagement by fathers predicted less depressive symptoms, while fathers who demonstrated less depressive symptoms were more actively engaged with their children.
The results provided by Hernandez’s research suggested that fathering has broader implications than child development. She also said that, as a society, we are quick to blame fathers who are not actively involved with their children. There may be an underlying mental health problem that may need to be addressed.
“I believe that there is just a stronger emotional tie between moms and their children,” said biology sophomore Arif Sajid. “Because of that, I feel like fathers generally have to establish their relationship with the kids. It’s not something that’s automatically there. If a father has a wife and kids he loves and who love him back, he will have minimal stress, resulting in nothing but a healthy mental state of mind.”