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Trauma

How Men’s Mental Health Impacts Their Families

A man's mental health struggles can negatively influence a family in many ways.

Key points

  • When a man fails to address his mental health, it can negatively impact his family's relationship quality and functioning.
  • Untreated and unacknowledged depression, trauma, or addiction are destructive to a family's well-being.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. — 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Males have had a unique role in the family system as a leader and protector going back thousands of years. This is most clearly exemplified in the animal kingdom. When you look at lions, the male leads the pack and protects them from predators, whereas the females do most of the hunting and raising of the young. But when a male lion is perceived as weak or is not at his best, the safety of the pride is threatened. Men are like these lions. The best way we can protect our pack is to make sure we are adequately caring for ourselves. Our pride relies on it.

EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock
Source: EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock

The family is a delicate system made up of numerous relationships with varying degrees of quality and closeness. This system can operate like a well-oiled machine or become in desperate need of a tune-up. When part of that machine is not functioning at its best, the whole system will be impacted. So what happens when one of the leaders of the family experiences a mental health issue or crisis?

Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are among the most common issues mental health practitioners encounter. Depression often presents as low mood or reduced interest and/or pleasure in doing things. Associated symptoms can include appetite and/or sleep disturbance, weight change, fatigue, concentration issues, hopelessness or helplessness, and suicidal ideation. These symptoms have been shown to drastically impact aspects of the family such as child development and the quality of the spousal relationship.

For example, a father’s depression has been shown to have negative impacts on children's socioemotional development, including prosocial behaviors, emotion regulation, and self-control. In other words, when a father is depressed, their child is more likely to exhibit issues with social interaction and control of their behaviors and emotions. Further, depressed men are more likely to increase family arguments over time, which can exacerbate the depression. However, the research is not all doom and gloom: Generally, marital relationships have better outcomes when a depressed husband shares his difficulties with his wife.

Anxiety has many faces and can look different from one person to the next. Severe worry, panic, fear, phobias, nervousness, and jitters can all fall under the anxiety umbrella. Anxiety is most easily viewed as an unsteady foundation that, like a building, can affect anything or anyone that relies on it. Research has shown that paternal anxiety is generally predictive of a child’s anxiety. Worrisome parents demonstrate anxious patterns of responding and solving problems. This is often learned by children and replicated.

Trauma

What once constituted a traumatic event was a bit more restricting than today’s conceptualization of trauma. One inherent side effect of expanding our definition of trauma is that more and more people will report having had a traumatic life event. As a result, trauma has become a diagnosis du jour of sorts. Nevertheless, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (5th Edition) currently describes a traumatic life event as when a person has had exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.

A man who has experienced a trauma can demonstrate a number of difficulties that make it hard for him to interact with those in his immediate environment, such as his family. Trauma-related symptoms include negative changes in thinking and emotions, intrusive symptoms such as recurrent memories, dreams/nightmares, and/or flashbacks/re-experiencing, and avoidance of triggers and certain trauma-related stimuli.

An often-overlooked example of trauma impacting the family is transgenerational trauma. Transgenerational trauma refers to aspects of a traumatic response that is passed down to future generations. For example, a man who experiences a threat to his life may develop the notion that you can’t trust anyone. This idea can get passed down to his offspring, thus creating a cycle in which the next generation — that is, the one that did not have their life threatened directly — does not trust others or the world.

Addiction

For the most part, men are good at hiding symptoms of anxiety, depression, and even trauma in some instances. However, the effects of addiction are much harder to conceal and can be quite destructive. Common substances that men can become addicted to include alcohol, marijuana, heroin, benzodiazepines, and pain killers. Addiction, however, does not have to be caused by illicit substances. Men can also develop unhealthy reliance on behaviors such as gambling, smartphone use, social media, exercise, and sex.

Addiction issues put a strain on familial relationships regardless of who is battling addiction. Family members are apt to respond to addiction differently. While some push against the addict to try to implement for positive change, others may “tow the line” with hope of keeping the peace. Children in particular may tend to go above and beyond to do good and succeed to draw attention away from the dysfunction. Families with an individual battling addiction are more likely to experience financial stress, increased risk of trauma, and the potential for more addiction issues. The idea that addiction runs in families is not completely devoid of merit.

These are just a few mental health challenges that men face on a regular basis. Whatever you may be going through, it is important to remember that you do not exist in a vacuum. Your distress can be felt by others and, as described above, may even impact your family.

Men, do not neglect your own mental health.

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