Depressed Dads – Your Kids Need You

by Martin

in Depression in Men

A couple of pieces of research relevant to depressed dads set me thinking today. Both come from Canada’s Concordia University.

The first, from members of Concordia’s Centre for Research in Human Development (CRDH) is reported under the title Hands on Dads give Kids an Edge.

The other piece, by members of the university’s economics faculty, concerns the Repercussions of Job Stress on workers’ health.

Dads matter

The ‘Hands-on Dads’ study was based on data from 138 low to middle income Montreal families. Children were assessed in ‘middle childhood’ and around 4 years later, when they were pre-adolescent.

The results showed that:

  • For girls, the presence of a father in middle childhood meant fewer ‘internalizing problems’ in pre-adolescence;
  • For girls and boys, positive fathering predicted “higher Performance IQ and fewer internalizing problems over six years later“.

Erin Pougnet a PhD candidate in the CRDH said:

“Fathers make important contributions in the development of their children’s behaviour and intelligence. Compared with other children with absentee dads, kids whose fathers were active parents in early and middle childhood had fewer behaviour problems and higher intellectual abilities as they grew older – even among socio-economically at-risk families.

Regardless of whether fathers lived with their children, their ability to set appropriate limits and structure their children’s behaviour positively influenced problem-solving and decreased emotional problems, such as sadness, social withdrawal and anxiety.”

The report concludes :

“These findings add to the increasing body of literature suggesting that fathers make important contributions to their children’s cognitive and behavioural functioning, and point to the benefits of developing policies that encourage fathers to spend time with their children”

Stress and absent dads

Which brings me nicely to the second piece of research. The Concordia number crunchers found that:

“increased job stress causes workers to increasingly seek help from health professionals for physical, mental and emotional ailments linked to job stress. Indeed, the number of visits to health care professionals is up to 26 per cent [higher] for workers in high-stress jobs.”

These pieces got me thinking for two reasons.

First, I’m pretty sure that some periods of intense job stress played a big part in initiating the first stages of my depression. I don’t think it was the only cause but I do believe that it introduced a vulnerability in me that meant I was less resilient to events that occurred later.

Second, during the worst periods of my depression, I think that I was an absent father. Although I have always been physically present for my daughter, I certainly haven’t always been actively and mentally present. And what is really sad is that even though she was only two years old at the time, she knew it.

I realised that one day, after I had started to recover a little, when I was playing with her and I suddenly started to dance. She turned to my wife and shouted “Daddy’s happy! Daddy’s happy!”, as incredulous as if her stuffed Elmo toy was dancing with her, rather than her father.

Even now, she’ll occassionally make a comment that causes me to stop short – “will you be a happy Daddy today?”, “I know, let’s all be happy Daddy.” It makes you wonder what harm you might be doing.

Kids need depressed dads to get well

I don’t have any profound conclusions to draw from any of this but I do think there is message that needs to go out to all dads suffering from stress through work, to all depressed or potentially depressed dads and to the wives and partners of those dads (who are the ones most likely to help them):

Kids need their dads to be there for them in mind as well as body. If your mental health is undermined, you can’t be fully present for your kids.

So, if you are stressed, burned out or showing any other signs on the road to depression, stop and get some help. You’ll kids’ futures depend upon it.


Fathers’ influence on children’s cognitive and behavioural functioning: A longitudinal study of Canadian families, by Pougnet, Erin; Serbin, Lisa A.; Stack, Dale M.; Schwartzman, Alex E. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, Vol 43(3), Jul 2011, 173-182.

Psychosocial working conditions and the utilization of health care services, by Sunday Azagba and Mesbah F Sharaf, BMC Public Health 2011, 11:642doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-642.

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About the Author

Father, husband, writer and website publisher, discontented in his day-job, he writes here about depression - his own and in general. You can follow Too Depressed on Twitter. Please share the content on this site with all your friends, followers and contacts using the buttons above.

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Last revised on September 13, 2011

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