Postpartum affects mental health at work. What can companies do about it?
Up to 1 in 5 women will experience a mental health disorder during 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 the majority of work-related factors that predict better mental health outcomes. This may include access to paid maternity leave, overall workload and work flexibility.
However, previous research looking at maternal mental health in relation to work has led to return to work on maternity leave, said lead author Rachel McCardel, a doctoral student 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 include the actual process of when the leave ends and when you start work again and when you start combining your roles as an employee and a mother,” he said.
Understanding the role that return to work plays in a working mother’s mental health can help find solutions. It will show where interventions or support could prevent or reduce the burden of conditions such as depression or anxiety.
The roles of mother and employee can conflict
The authors conducted a systematic review of peer-reviewed articles from the past 20 years that investigated mental health among working mothers in the US. health.
“But when we put all the studies together, we saw a type of conflict emerge between balancing the responsibilities and demands of being an employee, as well as the responsibilities of being a parent and wanting to meet the needs of both roles,” he said. McCardell.
Greater conflict between the two roles, they found, led to worse mental health outcomes.
In workplace research, co-author Heather Padilla explained, return to work is a term that applies to people who have been injured or have been off 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 ability and adjusting their job responsibilities to help them transition back because research shows there are positive benefits to returning to the workplace after from an injury or an illness, but there is a balance,” said Padilla, an associate professor in the College of Public Health.
“I don’t know that we have the same discussions about going back to work after having a baby, even though we treat pregnancy very much as a disability and an illness in the US workplace.”
The results of this study reveal some strategies that individuals can take to support their mental health as they return to work. Peer support, for one, was cited as an important resource for parents returning to work. But the agency’s policies will ultimately have the greatest impact.
McCardel says this review highlights why it’s critical for workplaces to intentionally address maternal mental health.
“It’s about creating that structure to say you’re not alone. To show that as an organization, you care about your employees and value them. Let’s create a structure where we can have those conversations and address those needs,” McCardel said.
McCardel and Padilla are joined by third co-author Emily Loedding, also a doctoral student in the College of Public Health.
The paper was published in the July issue of the Maternal and Child Health Journal.