Written by Jodi Gray
The topic of men’s mental health is often swept under the carpet in favor of other issues, but the actual statistics are a cause for concern. More than six million men deal with depression, with only about half of these men receiving the appropriate mental health treatment (and an even fewer 1 in 4 among those who are Black and Hispanic men). In the current male penal system, in particular, incarcerated men suffer from long-term deprivation that leads to severe mental health problems.
Incarcerated fathers report difficulty adjusting to prison life due to their unique deprivation strain — missing their children and partner. Studies find that fathers who miss their children while in the system often report suffering from mental distress. Due to the separation from their children and families, fathers leave prisons with emotional traumas that may cause anxiety and depressive problems.
Unfortunately, when they do come home, this problem tends to exacerbate the emotional distance with their children, who have experienced aspects of their childhood while their father was absent from home, something that Fathers’ UpLift witnesses on a routine basis in serving these men and their families. No doubt, the incarceration of fathers affects entire families as much as they do individual fathers.
This all comes on top of the stigma that comes with a history of incarceration, hindering dads from seeking the help they may need to resume their lives out of feelings of anger, shame, or sadness. For fathers to truly reconnect with their children and families, it’s important to break the stigma and focus on what the future holds.
What causes mental health issues among incarcerated fathers?
While the root causes of mental health in fathers do differ on a case-to-case basis, it’s important to shine a light on commonly shared issues that may be affecting the group as a whole. Research shows that of the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated, the majority are uneducated or low-income people of color. To make matters worse, over half of all prisoners in the US are fathers of minor children. When we take into account the fact that the US mass incarceration problem is closely tied to racial and economic discrepancies in the treatment of individuals under the law, it’s no wonder that it leads to significant mental health impacts on fathers.
Injustice aside, for incarcerated fathers, it can be challenging to adequately play their roles, even when they are out and transitioning back into the community. This creates distance and disruption among families, isolating these men from an otherwise invaluable support system.
As fathers, there are inherent pressures to provide, protect, and be present for one’s family — the building blocks of a father’s identity. Being incarcerated and away from home and their family for long periods of time gets in the way of doing these things that are expected of them and causes a strain on relationships and their ability to communicate these feelings and worries to those around them.
What can be done?
Here are some ways incarcerated (or formerly incarcerated) fathers and their families can address major mental health concerns:
Studies suggest that for incarcerated fathers especially, exposure to toxic displays of manhood in prison contributes to a masculine identity that distances men away from their identity as a father, particularly those who are able to support their children’s positive development. This makes it difficult to properly engage with their children and to re-establish ties post-incarceration after long periods of inability to communicate or function in a healthy way.
Certain types of therapists can help address specific challenges that a father may be undergoing. For example, licensed forensic psychologists diagnose patients in areas of mental health and conduct routine evaluations for offenders or victims — so they can support fathers as they process through the experience. Families can further work together with probation and correctional specialists to develop recovery plans and help fathers smoothly transition back to their communities. These fathers can also be supported by social workers and therapists through mental health struggles.
Therapy is a significant piece of our approach to help men and fathers here at Fathers’ UpLift. Father absence can be a detriment not only to the mental health of a child, but to the father as well. We believe empathetic therapy is an important part to sorting through that trauma.
Programs like Fathers’ Uplift’s Therapy and Coaching can provide fathers with holistic resources and guidance to help get them back on their feet after incarceration. The goal of programs like these is to assist fathers in overcoming obstacles through therapy sessions, coaching, resource support, and peer community, where fathers are able to boost coping skills to be the best that they can be, for their families and children.
In our podcast episode featuring Fathers’ Uplift alumnus Javan Tooley, we touched on the need for fathers to not become victims of their past. Uplifting fatherhood starts with the ability to cry and share about their problems, shedding negative ideas of toxic masculinity so that they can become role models for their children and be a man to look up to.
Don’t bear burdens alone
If you’re a father or you know a father who could use a helping hand, or even just a community of fellow fathers and brothers to help bear the burden of fatherhood and all the stressors of life alongside you, reach out to our team here at Fathers’ UpLift through either our Referral page or our Contact page. We’d love to be of service and welcome you into our community of fatherhood and family.
Exclusively written by Jodi Gray for fathersuplift.org