It is well known within the psychological medicine field that the mental health of parents plays a significant role in the development of children. The parents’ mental health affects not only their children’s mental health but also their personality and behavior, both positively and negatively. Children raised in a home with abusive parents suffer from depression at a much higher rate than children raised in a healthy household (Ethier, 2004). However, more recent studies are showing that more specifically, fathers and their own mental health status play a more significant role in shaping their children than mothers, which contradicts the stereotype that mothers have a heavier role in raising children. The common mentality that a father’s sole purpose is to bring the family financial success while the mom provides the emotional nurturing and raises the kids is damaging not only to the children, but to both parents, and especially to the father.
Children with abusive (both emotionally and physically) or negligent fathers suffer from greater emotional disconnection and depression than children and adolescents who do not. Researchers have gathered data proving that parents’ stress levels develop or worsen their children’s depression and anxiety (Vallotton, 2016, p. 81). Researchers then delved deeper into the topic, going on to prove that not only do both parents’ mental health issues stress their children, but that the father’s mental health has the greatest negative effect on the children. Children with fathers who suffer from mental health and are emotionally distant suffer significantly, especially in school. These children find it hard to concentrate, focus, and perform simple tasks, which are all symptoms of depressive disorder. These same children also struggle to form meaningful connections (or any at all), as they also commonly develop social anxiety. Since school is the biggest constant in their life, these children tend to struggle in class and sometimes find themselves getting in trouble with teachers. The lost or broken emotional connection with the father can cause them to behave inappropriately, especially if the father himself lashes out violently or has raging episodes. This behavior manifests itself in the child, who might try to ignore or repress these emotions and behaviors, which also causes unnecessary stress to their developing brain. One study found that children with abusive fathers lacked cooperation, especially with adults in authority, such as teachers in school, counselors, principals, and even law enforcement (Ayoub, 2016).
The stress that fathers’ inflict on their children is not always direct. The exact opposite of an abusive father can also damage children’s mental health. Absent fathers, either fathers who are not at all a part of their children’s life, who are in and out of the house, or who are present but not emotionally involved, can do just as much, if not more damage than abusive fathers. The absent fathers set a negative example for their children, and this disproportionately negatively affects the boys in the family. Emotionally disconnected fathers influence how their sons express their emotions and react to social situations. In a society where males are already forced to suppress their emotions, a father reinforcing the fact that men should be “tough” and “suck it up” is incredibly damaging to the children. It is a phenomenon recently coined “toxic masculinity” in the modern world. It is the belief that men should be touch and “macho,” and any show of emotion considered stereotypically feminine is considered “weak.” This social phenomenon is also what pushes fathers to fill the role of the breadwinner in a household and emotionally distance themselves from their family. This type of emotional suppression leads to violent outbursts and rages as they do not know how to healthily express emotions without seeming weak (Powell, 2016). These sometimes violent rages teach the children that their father is someone to be feared. The children living in a household with an emotionally repressed and distant father develop anxiety toward social situations in which they would be required to express their emotions and even emotionally connect to others. This is why, when these emotionally depraved children grow up to be parents, they often lack patience for dealing with the emotions and feelings of their own children. As they themselves did not understand how to healthily express their emotions, they find themselves lacking the communication skills necessary to bond with their own child. This causes a vicious cycle of raising emotionally distant and traumatized children. Of course, this depends on the severity of the situation, but any level of emotional trauma inflicted on children by their parents definitely has a negative effect to some degree on the children’s mental health.
There is no way to eradicate mental health illness, so the only thing that could change is education. If parents and children alike were further educated or introduced to the topics of mental health, they could receive the help they needed in order to give their family its best shot.