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Exploring the mental health crisis among working mothers

Exploring the mental health crisis among working mothers

Almost every parent who works outside the home — or, in more recent years, works an outside job from home — finds achieving work-life balance challenging. Moms might be worse off than anyone. Working mothers today often struggle to feel present when it counts, have guilt over splitting time between family life and professional demands, and face difficulties setting boundaries in a culture and climate that celebrates a 24-7 dedication to work. As a result, the mental health of working mothers is increasingly suffering. 

One recent poll found that 42% of working moms have depression and/or anxiety. The statistic is alarming on its own, but it’s even more glaring when compared to the general population, which is almost half at 28%. 

Read on to learn how to make positive changes in your organization to help moms survive and thrive. You’ll learn why working moms and depression and anxiety are such hot topic issues today and how you can help.  

The unique challenges for working moms

Poor mental health of working mothers is a global phenomenon. Some reports suggest a whopping 79% of moms who work have extreme anxiety about the expectations they try to live up to.

Balancing work and family life

Balancing the relentless demands of both career and family is no easy feat. Working moms carry a large mental load. For too many moms, there’s a constant juggle between career expectations and family responsibilities. Over time, this can lead to increased stress levels, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy as moms feel unable to find success in either role.

Societal expectations and stigma

Society places unfair pressure and expectations on mothers in the workplace. The demands placed on moms who work can result in intense mental strain, self-doubt, and, in extreme cases, self-sabotage or destructive behaviors in some women.

Lack of support in the workplace

A supportive work environment and culture is important for all employees, but it becomes even more essential when we consider the needs of working mothers. Insufficient workplace support creates an unbearable culture. 

Several factors can contribute to moms feeling unsupported in their jobs, including:

  • Limited options or no flexibility in scheduling 
  • Inadequate or unreasonable maternity leave and postpartum support
  • Lack of compassion or understanding from leadership and coworkers 
  • Lack of childcare options

Financial pressures

Childcare and other expenses can create financial pressures that weigh heavily on the mental health of working mothers. Cost of living rates have and will likely continue to skyrocket, and everything seems exorbitantly higher than even just a year ago. Many moms feel they need to work, and it’s not uncommon for them to feel trapped when their contribution isn’t enough. It’s easy to see how stress like this can quickly exacerbate mental health challenges.

The link between employment and mental health in mothers

Workplace stress can impact every area of life and burden already overworked moms. Long hours, tight deadlines, lack of boundaries, and lower pay than male counterparts can spark anxiety and cause an increase in depression rates among working moms. 

The simple fact is that too many mothers feel buried by their Monday through Friday workload, and their jobs don’t end at night or just because it’s the week — work at home is a constant for most exhausted mothers.

Mental health effects on working moms

The constant push-and-pull working mothers face to do their jobs and fulfill their duties as a parent is daunting. Poor maternal mental health is so widespread — especially since the COVID-19 pandemic — that 66% of moms say they’re not mentally healthy, and almost half (46%) are seeking therapy. 

Moms experience work-related depression, anxiety, burnout, and chronic stress—  all of which negatively impact personal and professional relationships. Some women even develop unhealthy coping mechanisms or begin acting out in risky ways to cope.

Depression and anxiety

Research shows that working moms and depression rates are much higher than what male peers experience. Demands stemming from children and home life, coupled with high expectations and a drive to succeed professionally, leave many mothers feeling caught in a relentless pattern of anxiety and depressive symptoms that can be difficult to escape.  

In 2022, one survey found that more than 40% of moms who work have been diagnosed with either anxiety, depression, or both conditions. 

Opportunity for clinician quote - provide an example of a key contributing factor 

Burnout and chronic stress

Burnout and chronic stress are the baselines for so much of today’s workforce — but they’re even more prevalent in the working-mother population. 

Some research shows an astounding 93% of mothers feel burned out today. There’s a significant gender gap when we look at burnout rates of women vs. men — women report burnout 32% times more than men, according to one study.

Common reasons for burnout and chronic stress in women include:

  • Lack of support at home and work
  • Feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of being a parent
  • Being a sole caregiver
  • Struggling to meet childcare demands
  • Consistently not getting enough sleep, leading to exhaustion

Because stress and burnout are so dire in the lives of working moms, the term “depleted mother syndrome” was coined.

Impact on family relationships

It makes sense that moms who are stressed, overworked, tired, and mentally worn out come home feeling like they have nothing more to give. The ripple effect on family and personal relationships can’t be ignored. When a mom is struggling — mentally, physically, or emotionally — it can impact relationships with children, partners, and friends. Tensions rise, conflicts become more common, and emotional disconnect is often the result.  

Opportunity for clinician quote - explain how familial challenges in personal lives can affect an individual’s ability to show up as their best self to work

Coping mechanisms and risk behaviors

The stress working mothers face in their daily lives leads some women to rely on unhealthy coping tools and engage in high-risk behavior. 

Research suggests that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 10% of moms either started or increased their use of cannabidiol (CBD), and 20% say they’ve started or increased drinking. 

There’s another, less obvious side of risky behavior that isn’t discussed as much but affects working moms’ overall health and well-being. Many mothers today neglect their health because they feel they simply don’t have the time or energy to make even basic medical appointments. Some research found that 64% of mothers say they’ve had less than one hour to themselves where they weren’t worried about family or work expectations in the last 24 hours.      

How to support the mental health of working mothers

The good news is that, as an employer, you have an excellent opportunity to help and support working moms in your organization. 

Some of the ways you can provide support include:

  • Therapy access: Making access to therapy for employees convenient and affordable is the number one way you can help the moms on your team. When mental health issues interfere with work and home life, even small tasks can be daunting. Professional help can make a world of difference, but busy, over scheduled mothers may find it challenging to make the time, so finding resources that make the process easy — like Talkspace’s convenient and affordable online therapy platform — is key. 
  • Flex scheduling: Flexible scheduling offers autonomy and freedom for mothers. Flex schedules make tasks like getting kids to the doctor and making it to school and sporting events possible while still being able to get the job done. It’s beneficial for companies, too — in studies, flex scheduling resulted in a 53% better ability to focus and 29% higher productivity rates. 
  • Remote work: At one time, employers feared that remote employees wouldn’t be as productive or responsible in their roles — we now know that’s just not the case. The height of the pandemic allowed us to assess remote work’s impact on important factors such as job satisfaction, productivity levels, and general employee mental well-being. It turns out that almost every metric saw improvement. 
  • Inclusive (and paid) parental leave policies: Paid parental leave policies should be a given with employment benefits for working moms. It offers much-needed stress relief for working mothers who are already under pressure to balance the demands of professional and personal responsibilities. 
  • Gender equality in hiring practices and pay: Though shocking, women still make significantly less than men. As of 2022, women earned an average of 82 cents for every dollar a man earned. Studies show they’re also less likely to get hired or promoted when competing against male candidates. Creating a company policy that ensures gender equality in hiring practices and pay can help working mothers immensely. 
  • Encourage self-care: Encourage employees — especially mothers — to practice self-care and take personal time when needed so they can achieve work-life balance.  
  • Employee resource groups (ERGs): ERGs can provide a sense of community and support for overwhelmed working mothers. 

Invest in mental health support for working mothers

Juggling work and family life is more challenging than ever for working moms today. Investing in mental health support can provide a long-term solution for a problem that’s not going anywhere. 

Partnering with Talkspace can offer a critical lifeline to mothers. Experienced licensed therapists and mental health providers can help your organization’s moms (or anyone struggling) learn to manage their demands in healthy, productive, positive ways. On-the-go, convenient, and affordable therapy makes getting help easy, too — with online options for sessions that work when and where busy moms need them. 

You can be a positive force in improving the mental health of working mothers. Request a demo from Talkspace today. 

Sources:

  1. CVS Health. “The Mental Health Crisis of Working Moms.” CVSHeatlh, October 25, 2022. https://www.cvshealth.com/news/mental-health/the-mental-health-crisis-of-working-moms.html.  
  2. Ferrante, Mary Beth. “Thousands of Mothers Have Spoken. Are We Going to Listen?” Forbes, May 3, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/sites/marybethferrante/2023/05/03/thousands-of-mothers-have-spoken-are-we-going-to-listen.  
  3. Frech, Adrianne, and Sarah Damaske. “The Relationships between Mothers’ Work Pathways and Physical and Mental Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 53, no. 4 (November 29, 2012): 396–412. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022146512453929.  
  4. Payton, L’Oreal Thompson. “Nearly Half of Working Mothers Have Been Diagnosed with Anxiety or Depression. Here’s What Can Help.” Fortune Well, March 17, 2023. https://fortune.com/well/2023/03/17/working-moms-mental-health/.  
  5. Guidry, Ashley. “Put out Mommy Burnout!” Legacy Community Health, May 29, 2023. https://www.legacycommunityhealth.org/newsblog-put-out-mommy-burnout
  6. “Executives Feel the Strain of Leading in the ‘New Normal.’” Future Forum, February 2, 2023. https://futureforum.com/research/pulse-report-fall-2022-executives-feel-strain-leading-in-new-normal/
  7. “Motherly’s 2021 State of Motherhood Survey Results.” Motherly, May 4, 2021. https://www.mother.ly/news/2021-state-of-motherhood-survey/
  8. Kochhar, Rakesh. “The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, March 1, 2023. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/03/01/the-enduring-grip-of-the-gender-pay-gap/
  9. Player, Abigail, Georgina Randsley de Moura, Ana C. Leite, Dominic Abrams, and Fatima Tresh. “Overlooked Leadership Potential: The Preference for Leadership Potential in Job Candidates Who Are Men vs. Women.” Frontiers in Psychology 10 (April 16, 2019). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00755

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