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Single fathers just as likely as single mothers to self-report poor health and poor mental health


Single fathers now make up an estimated 20 per cent of all single-parent households in Ontario, and are just as likely as single mothers to report poor overall health and poor mental health, according to a new study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

The study published today in the BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, is the first to compare single fathers and mothers based on their self-rated health and mental health. Previous studies have found that single parents have worse physical and mental health than partnered parents, but most previous studies focused on single mothers, with little attention paid to single fathers.

“Most previous studies have found that single mothers self-report poor health, but what our research shows is that single fathers need interventions, supports and social policies designed to recognize their needs as well,” says Dr. Maria Chiu, principal investigator and scientist at ICES and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

Single parenthood is becoming more common worldwide because of increasing rates of divorce and more single individuals having children. The prevalence of single fathers is rising at a faster rate than single mothers in Canada, the United States and Europe.

Self-rated health has long been used as a universal marker of health and there are well-established links between poor self-rated health, greater health service utilization and poorer health outcomes. The study found single fathers were just as likely as single mothers to report poor self-rated health (11.6 per cent and 12.5 per cent, respectively) and mental health (6.2 per cent and 8.4 per cent, respectively). Despite this, single fathers were half as likely as single mothers to have sought help from a mental health professional (13.4 per cent compared to 25.3 per cent).

“This speaks to the stigma that exists around mental health, particularly among men, who might be more reluctant to admit that they are suffering or to seek mental health services. There may also be structural barriers, meaning that single fathers may not have or perceive the same access to services that are offered to single mothers,” adds Chiu.

“Self-rated health and mental health of lone fathers compared with lone mothers and partnered fathers: a population-based cross-sectional study” was published today in BMJ’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Author block: Maria Chiu, Farah Rahman, Paul Kurdyak, John Cairney, Nathaniel Jembere and Simone Vigod.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario


Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
[email protected]
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996

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