While the recent trend of candid discussions about mental health has brought the topic into the spotlight, data suggests one group is still not accessing the mental health care they need: fathers.

The problems faced by dads have often been overshadowed in the media by the struggles of other groups, like kids and teens, but the mental health of fathers is just as important to recognize and address when tackling the mental health crisis in the U.S. According to NCT data, dads report increased concern about their mental health, but few seek treatment from professionals.

Here’s what employers need to know about the state of mental health among working fathers, and what they can do to help.

Why do fathers and fathers-to-be need more mental health support?

Many people—especially those who identify as men—don’t get the mental health support they need. Less than 35% of men with mental health issues report receiving mental health services in the past year, compared to over 50% of women. The lack of support becomes even more alarming among Black and Hispanic men, with only 21% reporting they’ve received mental health treatment for depression or anxiety symptoms in the past year.

This problem is only amplified among those who are fathers. Between existing mental health issues, increased burnout at work, and the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, fathers increasingly report mental health struggles:

How can employers better support working fathers’ mental health?

With close to 60% of employees receiving healthcare coverage through their employers, companies have a greater responsibility to ensure that working fathers can not only access the mental health support they need when they need it, but also feel comfortable doing so. Employers can better support working fathers by:

Increasing access to mental health care

In the U.S., employer-sponsored health plans aren’t required to cover mental health services and those that do often don’t offer employees adequate support. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 1 in 5 employers reported being satisfied with the availability of mental health providers in their provider networks. In the same study, 23% said they asked their insurers to increase access to in-network mental health services. Considering only 4% of working psychologists are Black, finding culturally-competent mental health support is even harder for Black fathers.

To improve access to mental health care, more employers turn to third-party benefit providers offering virtual access to psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists. In 2021, nearly 40% of Americans reported using telehealth services to meet with a medical or mental health provider, and 60% reported they’d use telehealth services to receive mental health care. Virtual mental health care not only makes it possible to get care from almost anywhere, but it also increases access to providers (including BIPOC providers). It also makes it easier for working fathers to fit appointments into their busy days.

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Reducing stigma around mental health

Despite an increased focus on mental health, stigmas around it still exist. While these stigmas impact all genders, men are particularly affected. Data suggests that 40% of men would prefer to hide any issues from their bosses out of concern it may hurt their careers. For those with kids, the problems often go deeper. Studies show that fathers are less likely to engage with mental health services, due in part to traditional male stereotypes regarding self-reliance, physical toughness, and emotional control.

Workplaces can help reduce these stigmas in several ways:

  • Leaders, especially other fathers, can destigmatize mental illness by sharing their mental health stories and participating in any mental health programs offered through the company. 
  • Employers can encourage employees to participate in ongoing mental wellness exercises during working hours, whether through lunch-and-learns or live guided meditations. 
  • Employers can publicize mental health benefits offered outside of traditional healthcare, emphasizing anonymity, so fathers feel comfortable participating without fear of professional retaliation.

Providing more resources along the family journey

Fathers can often feel unsupported or alone in their struggles, and the pandemic only amplified these feelings. According to a study from the American Psychological Association, 82% of fathers reported they needed more support than they received during the pandemic, compared to 68% of mothers.

While fathers can seek additional support from their partners and social circles, employers can also provide them with additional resources that give them the help they need on their path to and through parenthood. Family health benefits can connect fathers to a range of resources—including mental health specialists, career coaches, and infant sleep coaches—that help them navigate the joyful and vulnerable moments of parenthood.

Offering paid paternity leave

All new parents need the time to bond with a new infant and process the turbulent emotions that arise in the first few months of having a new baby. Unfortunately, few fathers get to enjoy this time with their child: 76% of fathers return to work less than a week after welcoming their new family member. Because the federal government doesn’t mandate paid paternity leave, fathers often have to decide between taking unpaid FMLA leave from work or returning to work shortly after coming home with their babies.

To address that problem, employers can offer equitable paid leave for all parents, not just mothers, for a minimum of 12 weeks. Studies have found that paid family leave policies improve the mental health of parents, helping to reduce depressive symptoms and improve the physical health of parents and their children.

How Maven supports mental health for fathers–and all parents

As employers look to implement policies and programs to better support the mental health of fathers, Maven is here to help. Maven is the complete digital health benefit for starting and raising families, connecting parents and parents-to-be with the resources they need to thrive on their path to and through parenthood. Through our solution, fathers can access on-demand mental healthcare, 24/7 specialist support, clinically vetted content, and community groups and forums of other dads.

To learn more about how Maven can support fathers, schedule a demo today.

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