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May 5, 2021

Celebrating Mother’s Day Means Supporting Mothers’ Mental Health and Well-Being

When you think of mothers and motherhood, what are the first things that come to mind? Perhaps you envision the beauty of labor and giving life, the tenderness of cradling a newborn and breastfeeding, or that busy mom at the supermarket juggling two under two.

Motherhood is synonymous with an abundance of love, nourishment and comfort for many people. But when it comes to the mental health of mothers, there’s much more to the picture. Shame, guilt, depression (including postpartum depression), and overall mental and physical exhaustion are  also common aspects of motherhood that many moms struggle to recognize or discuss

Our society places an enormous amount of pressure on mothers to do it all and be it all. We are openly critical of the mother who goes back to work too soon, and in the same breath, tell the stay-at-home mom to get a job. We dissect a mother’s choice to breastfeed or not, when those choices are unique to the circumstances and health of each mother and her child and are really none of our business.

According to Adrienne Griffen, executive director of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, “one in five women will experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy or the first year of a baby’s life.” But too often, symptoms of depression, anxiety, or even an underlying health condition are minimized or dismissed as the effects of hormonal changes, affecting the psychological well-being of mothers.

On this Mother’s Day, let’s celebrate and show our appreciation for the mothers in our lives by developing a better understanding of the very real and complex challenges of motherhood along with the signs and symptoms of potential mental health problems.

Common challenges faced by contemporary mothers

  • Mom guilt
    • A universal theme of motherhood, guilt is exacerbated by the fact that mom-blaming is a national pastime. Mom guilt starts during pregnancy and grows worse as friends, family, and the media fixate on perceived flaws in mothering.
  • Sleep deprivation
    • Recent studies highlight that mothers contend with years of interrupted sleep, but we don’t need scholars to confirm what we already know: Moms need sleep! Unfortunately, the cumulative impact of sleep deprivation is dangerous for mental health, contributing to increases in depression, anxiety, stress, panic attacks, and other health problems.
  • Work/family balance
    • Our culture and our employers expect mothers to raise families as if they don’t have careers and work as if they don’t have children. These clashing expectations take a psychological toll, as millions of working moms scramble and sacrifice to balance each day. Without family leave and other support, too many moms feel worn down, exhausted and guilty.
  • Primary caregiving
    • Today, women still serve as primary caregivers for children and other family members, accounting for the majority of unpaid labor in the U.S. The weight of this burden for women often goes unacknowledged and unappreciated.
  • Body shaming
    • Criticizing and setting undue expectations for physical appearance happens in all walks of life. Mothers are often pressured to “lose the baby weight” by family, friends and media. This can lead to lack of self-esteem or self-worth, depression and anxiety.

Potential signs of maternal mental health issues

  • Extreme feelings of anger, irritation or sadness that can come without warning
  • A feeling of fogginess or difficulty completing basic tasks
  • Going through day-to-day activities and motions in a robotic way
  • Acting or feeling overly anxious around children
  • A deep sense of guilt or personal failure
  • Showing little interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Experiencing scary, upsetting thoughts that don't go away

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to seek support from friends and family, as well as a mental health professional.

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