Study raises concerns about mental health of English-speaking fathers

By Ruby Irene Pratka – Local Journalism Initiative

English-speaking men and men with children have been hit harder by the impacts of the pandemic, both economic and psychological, than their French-speaking and childless counterparts. That is the main conclusion drawn from a recent provincewide study by the Pôle d’expertise de recherche en santé et bien-être des hommes (PERBESH), in collaboration with the Centre pour la valorisation de la paternité and the Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN).

According to the data, men from the English-speaking community are more likely to report high levels of stress, more likely to be looking for work during the pandemic, and more likely to earn under $20,000 annually than their French-speaking counterparts.

English-speaking fathers are nearly three times as likely as their francophone counterparts to be “very concerned” about COVID-19 transmission from their children, and twice as likely to say the pandemic has had a “very negative” impact on their daily life. They are also more likely to de-prioritize their own health. Twelve per cent of English-speaking fathers surveyed have postponed a medical appointment during the pandemic and 11 per cent have postponed a mental health care appointment. Among francophone fathers, these numbers fall to four per cent and three per cent respectively.

Russ Kueber is the director of programming at the CHSSN, a Quebec City-based nonprofit with a provincewide mandate that promotes access to health and social services in English around the province. The CHSSN helped recruit English-speaking men around the province for the survey.

“These findings confront some persistent myths about Quebec’s English-speaking population, which is often perceived as privileged,” Kueber says. “By presenting a more nuanced portrait that is more sensitive to the specific realities experienced by English-speaking men and fathers in their relationship with health and social services, this study provides interesting insights to better meet the needs of this clientele.”

“The English-speaking community of 2022 is not the English-speaking community of 1970,” observes sociologist and PERVESH researcher Jacques Roy. “When we look at issues like unemployment or the number of people living below the poverty line, English speakers are much less favoured. The impact of the pandemic has been much stronger for them, especially in terms of mental health. Thirty per cent of English-speaking fathers reported elevated levels of psychological distress, compared to 13 per cent of francophone fathers.”

Roy believes difficulty accessing health care and government services in English may be at the root of the disparity, especially for the 20 per cent of anglophones who live outside Montreal and the 35 per cent who are immigrants and may not master either official language.

“Think about an anglophone parent, or a parent who speaks neither English nor French, when they have to talk to child protective services,” he says. “Even if you’re bilingual, you can have difficulty understanding the other language when you’re stressed. Anglophones are less likely to reach out to services, and the services are less accessible, so anglophones are more likely to deal with their situation alone. There’s also the whole question of masculinity – a lot of men don’t have the reflex to go get help. All of this makes a cocktail.”

Young fathers, under age 35, are the most affected, Roy says. “Young fathers have to manage a work-life balance with younger children; daycares are closing and opening and the fathers don’t always have job security. It’s hard enough in normal times, but then add a lockdown…they live under a lot more pressure.”

Roy notes that several reports from various government agencies over the past few years, including the Laurent report on child protective services and the action plan on family caregivers put forward by the Ministère des aînés et des proches aidants, have emphasized the need for more access to services in English.

He believes targeted outreach from health and social services agencies may help vulnerable English-speaking fathers recover from the impacts of the pandemic. “There are people who need medical or social support who are not getting it,” says Roy. “During the vaccination campaign, the authorities prioritized seniors because seniors were most at risk. These fathers, who were already vulnerable before the pandemic, are even more vulnerable now; we should prioritize them.”

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