By Elizabeth Hamilton, LCSW, MPH, Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center
Motherhood can be incredibly challenging. A mother’s emotional well-being is critical to her total health. It’s also critical to her providing the best care for her children. So just imagine how much harder it might be for women living with emotional despair. When mothers experience mental health disorders, such as a depression, anxiety or mood disorder, their physical health is also greatly debilitated. This makes it difficult for her to parent effectively and actually find joy in being a mother. Furthermore, it can disrupt her ability to promote her child’s social, emotional and physical well-being too.
Why is depression more common in women?
Depression is the most common form of mental illness, and although it affects both men and women, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease. An estimated one out of every five women will experience depression during her lifetime. While some women live with the disease throughout their lives, mothers are especially vulnerable to depression. In fact, some surveys have found more than one-third of women of childbearing years have depressive symptoms. Although the reason for this gender difference is still unclear, we know there are a variety of factors that can contribute to women being more commonly diagnosed with depression, including biological and societal factors. Additionally, some forms of depression occur only in women, such as postpartum depression, perinatal depression and depression associated with menopause.
Stop overlooking your symptoms
It has been my experience as a therapist that women in general, and mothers in particular, especially mothers with young children, tend to avoid talking about depression and anxiety. I think mothers are very sensitive to possible judgment and criticism and hesitate to bring up negative feelings like worry and sadness for fear they will be judged by others. Mothers often report feeling they need to be “super moms” and feel if they discuss their feelings, let alone get diagnosed with depression or anxiety, it means they are not living up to that status. Sometimes mothers tell me they have been feeling depressed and anxious for months, but were too busy caring for their children and other family members to do anything about it. It is only when the symptoms become more severe that they seek help.
Easing the stress of motherhood
While stress affects us all, moms, in their desire to be “perfect,” put a lot of pressure on themselves. Additionally, they often put their family’s needs first and neglect their own. So what can moms do to ease the stress of motherhood? First and foremost, they have to speak up! Accepting help from friends and family can improve our ability to better manage stressful situations. It’s also important to identify what situations trigger stress and how you cope with those feelings. Ask yourself, “Am I using unhealthy behaviors to cope with the stress?” If so, look for healthy ways to manage stress. Exercise, eat healthy foods, be mindful in your approach to everyday tasks and live in the moment. Another suggestion, it to put things in perspective. Prioritize and make time for what’s really important. Delegate certain responsibilities and if need be, either delay or simply say no to less important tasks. And lastly, seek professional help. Oftentimes, speaking with a professional therapist is enough to gain the knowledge and positive coping skills needed to feel better.