Health Sciences

Fathers’ mental health crucial to better parenting

Fathers’ psychological distress in the postnatal period is associated with lower perceptions of parenting competence, higher levels of hostile parenting and poorer outcomes for children, a new ACU study has found.

The finding is part of a thesis study called ‘Mechanisms impacting the relationship between father’s mental health and child outcomes’ which was undertaken by PhD student, Holly Rominov from Australian Catholic University. The study explores the long-term relationships between fathers’ postnatal mental health and later parenting behaviour.

Ms Rominov’s quantitative research used data from the Growing Up in Australia: Longitudinal Study of Australian Children – a national, ongoing Government research initiative which follows the development of children and families from across Australia.

She analysed 2,045 father-child pairs, using data when children were 0-12 months old, as well as when they were eight to nine years old. There was a near-even split of male and female children (51 per cent male and 49 per cent female).

Ms Rominov said there is clear evidence of the negative effects of both short-term and long-term paternal psychological distress on children.

“The short-term effects include fathers being less responsive to infant cues, less involved in child caregiving tasks, and increased incidences of parenting hostility. This can result in impaired infant development and compromised family relationships. Longer term impacts include harmful effects on children’s emotional, social, and cognitive development and wellbeing, and continued strain on couples’ relationships,” she said.

Ms Rominov said supporting fathers’ postnatal mental health is critical for the promotion of healthy fathers, children, and families.

“Positive parent behaviours have been shown to promote children’s development across several domains including brain development, emotional regulation, language skills, academic performance, and general social-psychological wellbeing. Conversely, less positive parent behaviours can result in significant negative consequences for children’s psychological, social and physical adjustment,” she said.

Ms Rominov said her research had implications for the policymakers and support services focused on supporting parents, children and families.

“In Australia and other countries, early identification of maternal perinatal distress and the provision of early intervention and support has received a lot of attention. There is a need to move toward perinatal mental health assessment that is inclusive of the whole family, ensuring that appropriate mental health support is provided to all members of the family, including fathers,” she said.

Ms Rominov, a student in the School of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences, recently came first in ACU’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition and was also awarded the People’s Choice Award, as voted by members of the audience.

The other 3MT contestants were:

  • First runner-up Rose Ferguson, School of Psychology, Faculty of Health Sciences speaking on ‘Flexible Morality: Testing Assumptions of Moral Credits Models of Moral Balancing’
  • Second runner-up Elodie Chaplais, School of Exercise Science, Faculty of Health Sciences speaking on ‘Big and breakable: Bone health in adolescents with obesity’
  • Don Parker, School of Philosophy, Faculty of Theology and Philosophy speaking on ‘Know thyself. Psychoanalysis and the Enlightenment Project’
  • Jill Leckey, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research speaking on ‘Carbohydrate dependence during intense endurance exercise’
  • Brooke Van Zanden, Institute for Positive Psychology and Education speaking on ‘Understanding Gender Differences in Young People’s Motivation and Educational Attainment: Do Gendered Educational Outcomes Vary as a Function of Social and Cultural Background?’
3MT is a research communications competition, held at universities around the world. Students have just three minutes to present a compelling oration on their thesis and its significance in language appropriate to a non-specialist audience.