Key learning points
- A recent poll found that by 2022, 42% of working mothers surveyed had been diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression.
Family mental health care more often falls on women than on men.
Federal paid time off policies, along with workplace boundaries and a reliable support system, can help ease the mental burden many working moms feel.
Looking in from the outside, it might seem like Nathalie Walton has it all: a thriving career, a supportive husband, and a beautiful family. But having it all isn’t always enough, especially when it comes to mental health.
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“I’ve got help and I’ve got everything covered, but it’s still very stressful because it feels like if something goes wrong, the whole system breaks,” says the CEO and co-founder of Expectful, a holistic wellness app that recently launched. has been acquired by Babylist.
“There were so many times last year that my child was sick, and when that happens your whole foundation breaks. Because you have to keep working and you don’t get a chance to recover,” says Walton. “It can really take a toll on your mental health.”
Walton is far from alone. Data from a Harris Poll commissioned last year by CVS Health found that 42% of working mothers surveyed had been diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression by 2022, compared to 28% of the general population and 25% of their peers without children. In addition, working mothers are more likely to report that their mental health has deteriorated in the past year.
The growing mental health crisis is not necessarily shocking. According to a recent report from Calm, 50% of employees say work stress has an impact on their personal lives and their relationships with their family members and friends, as well as their relationships with themselves.
Inevitably, mental health care in families falls more on women than on men. In the same Calm survey, women also said they “take less care of their own mental health after becoming a caregiver, while men take better care of themselves.”
It’s a feeling that Walton can certainly relate to. After being told she was at higher risk for preterm birth at her 20-week antenatal appointment, her mental health began to decline. She credits meditating regularly for reducing stress and anxiety and making it to full term.
“Becoming a new mom is such a shock, and depending on your circumstances, it can be an even bigger shock,” she shares. “You ask a lot of questions and you ask yourself, ‘Is this normal?'”
But it takes more than meditation apps to help combat the mental health crisis for working moms. For starters, Walton would like to see better paid leave policies for parents in general.
“I had 20 weeks of maternity leave, but I don’t feel like that was enough,” she says. “For me personally, I felt like I needed a lot more, but a lot of women don’t even get that kind of maternity leave. Part of your identity is shifting and you don’t really have time to process it.”
In addition to paid parental leave, Dr. Elizabeth Kagan Arleo, radiologist, mother of three and author of Eat your frog first: and other pearls for professional working momsencourages employers to offer more flexible work options to accommodate parents and those in need.
“The workplace wasn’t necessarily super friendly for working parents before the pandemic started, but the flexibility to work from home can make all the difference for some families,” she says. “Employers and managers should also think more about meeting goals and criteria rather than focusing on where or when the work gets done. Flexibility on both aspects can go a long way in alleviating workplace anxiety in people, especially working mothers.”
And as for the employee, Arleo recommends setting and applying boundaries. Every Friday, she turns on an automatic email response saying she’s off work until Monday morning.
“Using an out of office message gives me permission to disconnect, knowing that if it’s really urgent, someone will call me,” she says. “There is a time to work and there is a time to not work and focus on yourself and your family.”
Walton also invites working moms to establish a support system, one that includes a therapist and business coach where appropriate, to help determine what can be delegated and what can be eliminated altogether. She also stressed the importance of asking and, if possible, hiring help.
“At this point in my career, I have a lot of successful mom friends, and the way they’re successful is they have a lot of help around them, and I don’t think people talk about that enough,” she says. . “I wish we did because it’s possible to have and do everything, but you have to be at a certain point where you can afford to have help.”
Ultimately, it’s important for moms to stick to the old adage of filling their cups before pouring into everyone’s — along with systemic change on behalf of corporations and federal laws that protect and provide the right to paid family or sick leave.
“On an airplane, put on your own oxygen mask first and then your child’s,” said Cara McNulty, DPA, president of behavioral health and mental wellness at CVS Health, in a press release about the Mental Health of Working Mothers report. “Women inherently do the exact opposite. They take care of those they love before prioritizing themselves.”
This story was originally on Fortune.com
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