SINGAPORE — In our society, where mental well-being is gaining recognition, it's crucial to acknowledge the importance of supporting fathers whose mental health challenges are often overlooked.
Dr Annabelle Chow, a principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, recently shared a story about a father who sought therapy in secret. He didn't want his family to worry, but his mental health had taken a toll.
"He's been seeing me in secret because he wouldn't let his family know that he's seeking help and that his mental health has taken a hit because he doesn't want them to worry," she explained.
Chow emphasises that vulnerability is often stigmatised among fathers, particularly those from traditional backgrounds. However, she believes that embracing vulnerability and seeking help is a sign of strength.
"There's a lot of work having to be done with him to help him understand that his vulnerabilities are actually strength and the fact that he didn't run away from this problem and he's trying to work on it is strength," she added.
The power of therapy in fatherhood journey
Another expert, Dr Magdalen Cheng, founder of Encompassing Therapy and Counselling, stressed the need for fathers to understand their own upbringing and how it affects their fatherhood journey. By exploring their relationship with their own fathers, they can gain insight into their own experiences and emotions.
"They have to understand their own actual father and understand the internalised image of their father. Because most of the time, there is a dissonance between who their father is and how they feel about their father," she explained.
Cheng further highlighted that therapy can offer various approaches tailored to individual needs. One popular and evidence-based therapy is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which focuses on the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviours.
By challenging and replacing unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, individuals can develop more adaptive ways of thinking and coping with their difficulties. CBT is often structured and goal-oriented, making it effective for targeting specific issues such as anxiety, depression, or addiction, Cheng added.
However, Cheng also highlighted the value of a holistic and long-term approach, where the therapist works alongside the client, diving deep into their emotions and experiences.
"The therapist here is to be a facilitator, shining a light on your blind spots," she said.
By delving into emotions and experiences, the therapist can help clients gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their motivations. This exploration can help clients recognise how past events, relationships, and belief systems shape their current behaviours and emotional responses, Cheng added.
This holistic approach recognises that emotional well-being is not solely dependent on addressing specific issues but also involves developing self-awareness, self-compassion, and a broader perspective on one's life, she explained.
Supporting fathers' mental health for the well-being of families
The challenges faced by fathers seeking therapy are not limited to societal expectations. Cultural background, generational differences, and support from partners all shape their experiences, Chow noted.
"Culture is a big one, like generation is a big one. There are different types of challenges that they face and different perspectives that they face as well," she explained.
Bryan Tan, Chief Executive of the Centre for Fathering, DADs for Life and MUMs for Life, highlighted the importance of fathers' involvement in their children's lives. According to Tan, research shows the positive impact of involved fatherhood on child development.
"Children with involved fathers do better in nearly every measure of child well-being," he affirmed. Furthermore, involved fatherhood has been shown to benefit fathers themselves, promoting their happiness, health, and overall well-being.
Research has consistently shown that children with involved fathers tend to perform better academically, exhibit improved emotional and social skills, and are less likely to engage in undesirable behaviours, he added.
By breaking the stigma surrounding vulnerability and seeking help, fathers can enhance their emotional well-being, strengthen their relationships, and positively impact their children's lives, Chow and Cheng shared.
Chow summarised the importance of mental health support for fathers, saying, "If you don't look after yourself, you would have very limited resources to look after people."
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