Father's Day: a focus on young fathers and mental health

13 June 2018

Young fathers face significant and specific challenges which can affect their mental health. In this blog we'll explore some of them and what we can do about it.

One of the specific challenges young fathers often experience is unstable housing and homelessness. Relationship breakdown is more common for young parents than for older parents. For this reason, young fathers' involvement in their child's life can be difficult to sustain despite some fathers' best efforts.

Young fathers may have fewer resources than older fathers, often having low-paid or unstable work and lower levels of education. For some fathers, housing, education and employment arrangements were interrupted when they became a dad. This can impact on their ability to maintain consistent contact with their child, especially if the young parents' relationship breaks down.

About young fathers

  • Young fathers are significantly more likely to experience depression, compared to older fathers.
  • Fathers aged 23 and younger were twice as likely to be unemployed at age 30, compared to men who became fathers over the age of 23. 
  • Over one third (39.2%) of young fathers wanted support for their mental health.
  • Over one third (34%) of young fathers do not live with their child full-time.
  • Young fathers are often struggling to cope in isolation, while experiencing greater parenting stresses than older fathers.

As if these challenges weren't enough to deal with, media reports and cultural norms depict young fathers as risky, absent or irresponsible. Young fathers also experience stigma and negative stereotyping by professional services. Interviews with young fathers described professionals' unhelpful or negative assumptions. Other young dads reported being ignored or overlooked by professionals, such as midwives and health visitors. 

Such negative assumptions about young fathers are inaccurate. Only 10% of non-resident young fathers lose contact with their child over time. The majority of young fathers want to 'be there' for their child, even if they are not living with their child most of the time.

Some famous young fathers

  • Last year, One Direction star Liam Payne became a father at 23.
  • David Beckham was also 23 when he became a father to Brooklyn, before marrying Victoria.
  • Rapper T.I. was 19 when he had his first child.
  • Another rapper, Lil Wayne, was just 15 when his daughter was born.
  • Basketball star LeBron James was a father at 19.
  • Will Smith was 24 when he first became a dad.

It is important to recognise the benefits of young fathers' contributions to their child’s wellbeing and healthy development. Greater father involvement is associated with better emotional, social and educational outcomes for the child. Family support services could enhance the father-child relationship by providing support and information at the earliest possible stage in their adjustment to fatherhood. 

Children experience life-long benefits from fathers’ involvement in their lives, such as an increased ability to handle stress in adulthood. Regardless of living arrangements, resources or employment status, young fathers do have the capacity to provide what is important to their child – time with dad. 

By spending time together, being emotionally supportive and setting clear boundaries for the child, young fathers can massively benefit their child’s mental health and wellbeing.

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