Dads at a disadvantage: Lessons learned from the discussion of mental health and opioid crises affecting fathers

The lack of support and resources for men cripples the already negative impact dads face when battling the mental health and substance abuse crises in Northeast Florida. On Wednesday April 11, a room full of individuals gathered at MOSH to listen to community-based solutions that support fathers through their struggles so they can effectively engage with their kids.

The panelists provided the wealth of knowledge needed to guide the community in addressing the disadvantages of dads and advising solutions to bridge the gap. Melanie Lawson, News4Jax morning anchor and board member at the Coalition, moderated the discussion between:

Councilman Bill Gulliford of District 13 in the City of Jacksonville opened the event highlighting the city’s efforts to address these crises.

The issue is cyclical – if a dad is prevented from engaging with his kid, he’s likely to get depressed, which is likely to cause substance abuse, which prevents a dad from engaging with his kid. Studies have shown that separating a child from their father is damaging to the child’s development as well – socially, educationally and behaviorally.

While society is quick to fund an epidemic, such as high rates of opioid overdoses in Northeast Florida, they hesitate to fund the root causes of the factors causing poor mental health and drug addiction – making it almost impossible to be progressive.

Men face harsh realities of being placed in the deadbeat dad category even though they are making an effort to be an involved parent. As one dad participating in our Fatherhood PRIDE program put it, “dads are out of sight, out of mind and unthought of.”

Kenneth Braswell, director of the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse kicked off the discussion by asking dads to stand up and be recognized. “Find a dad and tell him I see you,” he directed the audience, following with a message on how dads often feel invisible, especially when suppressing their emotions.

Each panelist represented a position in society that impacts at-risk dads, such as the government, social services, courts, prisons and addiction recovery. They said they’ve seen many dads in and out of their systems and know what it takes for a dad to successfully transition out of a rough place, such as immediate access to mental health and substance abuse treatment when needed.

Ambulatory Care Clinical Pharmacist Dr. Joseph Camilleri at UF Health Jacksonville, who is also a member of Drug Free Duval, closed the event sharing his experience of spending time with his children and highlighting the importance of dads, ending with “any man can be a father, but it takes a real man to be a daddy.”

This discussion was one of three held across the country in partnership with Baltimore’s Center for Urban Families, the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse and the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services/Administration for Children and Families/Office of Family Assistance.

These agencies recognized the Fatherhood PRIDE program, an initiative of the Coalition, as a vital resource in the Northeast Florida community for providing prevention services to at-risk fathers battling depression and substance abuse.