What About the Moms? Supporting the Mental Health of Working Mothers
Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each May to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness. As a company solely focused on brain health, Lundbeck has a long history supporting people with mental health issues. This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re focusing on the particular mental health challenges working mothers have faced during the pandemic. We’re highlighting how the workplace can be supportive of working moms’ mental health, and sharing how employers can help clear barriers to mental healthcare and colleagues can initiate conversations with someone who might be experiencing difficulties.
For many working mothers, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a blurring of home and work. Fourteen months into the pandemic, the constant juggling of work and career demands, remote schooling for children, and reduced or no childcare options – on top of the regular day-to-day household duties – is taking a toll. According to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, among households with children under the age of 18, women have been more likely than men to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder throughout the pandemic.1 And half of women surveyed for the Kaiser Family Foundation Women’s Health Survey reported that pandemic-related stress or worry impacted their mental health.2 Perhaps not surprising, one in three have considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their career as a result of COVID-19, according to a study conducted by McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org.3
While many pandemic stressors are beyond an employers’ control – grief, school closures, loss of a partner’s income – there are things employers can do to support working mothers’ mental health. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we are raising awareness of the role employers and co-workers can play in supporting those most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, including working moms living with depression.
Talking about depression in the (virtual) workplace
Despite progress, stigma can still prevent some people from seeking help for mental health issues. People may be reluctant to admit to managers or colleagues that they are experiencing depression, but honest discussion about one’s mental health may be a first step toward getting help. As founding supporter of Right Direction, a unique educational initiative that calls attention to depression in the workplace, Lundbeck is committed to destigmatizing mental illness and normalizing workplace conversations around mental health.
Right Direction is an effort of Employers Health Coalition and the Center for Workplace Mental Health (a program of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation). Through the free and publicly available program, employers have access to a customized framework for increasing awareness and help-seeking behaviors among employees. Right Direction gives employers tools to share internally, including educational presentations about depression and its effect on the workplace, as well as a toolkit that includes a step-by-step implementation plan and corresponding promotional resources.
Right Direction also provides resources to help people initiate conversations with a co-worker they think may be experiencing depression. Whether in person, over the phone or video chat, reaching out to a co-worker who is showing signs of depression may help a person feel supported. This can be important for people experiencing new symptoms, but also those who are being treated for depression already. Working moms often put the health needs of loved ones ahead of their own. And since the start of the pandemic, women have been forgoing routine and preventive health visits at high rates, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.2 In this complicated time, checking in with a healthcare provider to assess depression symptoms and determine if current treatment is working is probably not the first thing on a busy working mom’s to-do list.
A friendly check-in with a co-worker who you think might be experiencing new or worsening depression may encourage her to seek support and treatment. Some of the tips Right Direction offers for talking to a co-worker about mental health include:
- Go first. Start by asking, “what’s going on, you don’t seem like yourself?” Describe what you’re seeing and how it seems out of character for that person.
- Ask twice. A person may deflect the conversation if the topic feels uncomfortable. Try extra hard to show sincerity and compassion (through changes in vocal tone and body language) when you ask the second time.
- Listen. Take a minute to pause and just listen. When people share their feelings, they are vulnerable. Try to listen non-judgmentally and resist jumping in with a proposed solution.
- Ask for more context, don’t answer. Instead of a quick response or offering solutions, ask follow-up questions. You may ask whether the person has considered talking with someone who can help. It is sometimes easier for someone to seek help if they find the answer themselves, rather than being told how to fix it.
- Provide support. Let your co-worker know that it is okay to feel sad or anxious and it is a natural part of the human experience. It’s when it interferes with daily life that it’s time to consider getting help. Express your willingness to help with supportive statements like: “How can I help?”
- Follow up. Be sure to check back in whether the person accepted your offer of support or not. This sends the clear message that you care and are there for support.
If you think a co-worker, or you, are in immediate crisis, reach out to a crisis hotline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741. Trained professionals are available to provide confidential support.
Be compassionate to others during these uncertain times
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in ways we never could have imagined. While some people are returning to traditional work settings, things are still far from normal. Check in with colleagues on their mental health, and be honest and open about your own. Finally, explore the resources for employers and employees available through Right Direction, and help destigmatize depression in the workplace.
1. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. Last accessed 4/16/21. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
2. Kaiser Family Foundation. Women’s Experiences with Health Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from the KFF Women’s Health Survey. Last accessed 4/16/21. https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/womens-experiences-with-health-care-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-findings-from-the-kff-womens-health-survey/
3. McKinsey & Company & LeanIn. Women in the Workplace 2020. Last accessed 4/16/21. https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2020.pdf