Study finds hands on dads enjoy better mental health

Researchers claim their finding that more hands on dads report better mental health makes the case for longer paid paternity leave

Paternity Leave and flexible working opportunities


Men who are more involved in looking after their babies enjoy better mental health. That’s the finding of new research just published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal. The researchers explicitly say their work makes the case for longer and better paid paternity leave for working dads.

However the same research also found men remain wedded to the idea of being breadwinner. And that can have a negative effect on mental health.

The researchers looked at 800 low income dads in the US across the first year of their child’s lives. They found that dads spending more time with their infants promoted feelings of competency at parenthood and childcare. In turn those feelings correlated with fewer symptoms of clinical depression during the same period.

Breadwinner stereotype

The research found dads said that providing for their family and children was key to their identity as a father. However it did not lead to uplift in mental health. Rather it meant those that could not fulfil the breadwinner role felt bad about it.

So while work did not automatically improve mental health spending time with his baby appeared to provide some protection against depression. However the researchers were keen to point out that the relationship is not necessarily straightforward. It’s possible that feelings of depression lead men to feel worse about their competence as a dad.

“In general, I think there are two big takeaways. First, involvement with your child is not only better for the child, but it’s also better for the dad. So, dads, get involved with your kids early and often,” said Olajide N. Bamishigbin, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University. “Second, I think it is important for everyone to understand that paternal depression is a serious issue that requires attention. It affects fathers thereby impacting the entire family. So, it’s important that we take it seriously.”

Previous studies have shown that paternal involvement with their offspring leads to higher maternal life satisfaction and lower incidence of post natal depression. Involved dads also tend to have children that are healthier, show a greater IQ at age three and are less likely to present behavioural problems.

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