Motherhood at work: a study of maternal mental health

The postpartum period affects mental health at work. What can companies do about it?

Almost 1 in 5 women will have a mental health disorder in the postpartum period such as postpartum depression or generalized anxiety disorder.

How an organization handles a mother’s return to work can have a significant impact on her mental health, according to new research from the University of Georgia.

Organizations control for most work-related factors that predict better mental health outcomes. This may include access to paid maternity leave, overall workload and work flexibility.

But previous studies that examined maternal mental health in relation to work equated return to work with maternity leave, said lead author Rachel McCardell, a doctoral candidate in the UGA College of Public Health.

“But returning to work is more than that, because while maternity leave is an important resource, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual process of ending your leave and starting back to work, and when you start to juggle your roles as an employee and a mother , she said.

Understanding the role of return to work for the mental health of the working mother may help to find a solution. This will indicate where intervention or support can prevent or reduce the burden of conditions such as depression or anxiety.

The roles of mother and worker may collide

The authors conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed articles from the past 20 years that examined the mental health of working mothers in the United States. Studies have included cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that have varied and sometimes conflicted on whether mental recovery improves or impairs return to work. health.

“But when we synthesize all the research together, we see that there is some conflict between the responsibilities and demands of work, and the responsibilities of parenting, and the desire to meet the needs of both roles.” he said. McCardel.

They found that greater conflict between the two roles leads to poorer mental health.

In workplace research, co-author Heather Padilla explained, return-to-work is a term applied to people who have been injured or have been out of work for an extended period of time due to illness and are returning to the workplace.

“There are return-to-work programs and, in some cases, a very systematic process of assessing a worker’s abilities and adjusting their job duties to help them return, because research shows that there are positive benefits to returning to the workplace after an injury or illness, but there are balance,” said Padilla, an associate professor in the College of Public Health.

“I don’t know if we’re having the same conversations about going back to work after you’ve had a baby, even though we view pregnancy very much as a disability and an illness in the U.S. workplace.”

The results of this study reveal some strategies that people can use to maintain their mental health after returning to work. Peer support, for example, was cited as an important resource for returning parents to work. But the politics of the organization will ultimately have the greatest impact.

McCardell says this review highlights why it’s important to be intentional about maternal mental health in workplaces.

“Creating this structure means you’re not alone. To show that as an organization you care about and value your employees. Let’s create a structure where we can have those conversations and address those needs,” McCardel said.

McCardell and Padilla are joined by a third co-author, Emily Lodding, also a doctoral student in the College of Public Health.

The article was published in the July issue of the Maternal and Child Health Journal.

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