Depression is hitting mothers harder than fathers—here’s what you can do about it

If you're not flourishing in this new world, mama, don't worry. No one is.

Depression is hitting mothers harder than fathers—here’s what you can do about it
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Mothers carry an incredibly heavy mental load during the best of times and during this pandemic, we are facing unprecedented psychological challenges. Study after study shows that moms are suffering higher rates of psychological distress right now, compared to dads.

If you feel extra depressed and anxious right now you are so not alone, mama. Even former first lady Michelle Obama says she's dealing with "some form of low-grade depression" right now.

Whether you're a former First Lady or a first-time parent, living through 2020 is hard. And it's especially hard on mothers.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 1 in 3 Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in July, and moms with young kids are among the most impacted groups.

It's not you, mama—it's 2020

These numbers follow Motherly's COVID-19 survey, which found a majority of mothers (74%) feel mentally worse since the pandemic began. This tracks with a Pew Research Center survey that found women are reporting higher rates of psychological distress right now, compared to men. Additionally, new data released by Mental Health America (MHA) points to a sharp increase in depression and anxiety this year based on online mental health screenings.

According to MHA, the number of daily online depression screenings was a whopping 457% higher in June than in January.

Marisa Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at McMaster University. According to Young, during the pandemic parents may "endure more than what might be psychologically manageable," even if they have the privilege of working from home. "During this outbreak, parents are suffering," Young writes for The Conversation.

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She continues: "They are dealing with one of the most consequential impacts on the psychological health of the modern-day workforce: work-family conflict. This conflict has to do with the competing demands of paid work and family obligations. Additional workplace closures and social distancing practices will make it even harder for working parents over the next few months."

Single moms are facing monumental stresses right now as they are more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck and face higher financial risks (including eviction) during this economic downturn. And being in a heterosexual marriage does not guarantee financial security: Research shows moms have reduced their working hours four to five times more than fathers have during the pandemic, putting their professional futures at risk because of an uneven burden of childcare.

This kind of intense stress can lead to physical reactions, including panic attacks.

Even parents have panic attacks

According to Pew, almost 20% of U.S. adults say they've had a physical reaction to pandemic information and this is especially true for people who are facing financial hardship. For many, these physical reactions come in the form of panic attacks.

Google's data shows that searches for "panic attack symptoms" went up 100% when the pandemic started and there has been a surge in calls to mental health hotlines.

If you are suffering from panic attacks know that you are not alone. "The piece that gets people going in a classic panic attack is often that they feel as though they can't breathe," Sheila Addison, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, tells Popular Science.

Addison recommends those experiencing a panic attack attempt to slow their breathing, and focus on counting to four while inhaling, take a pause, and then exhale to four. Repeating that process doesn't instantly end a panic attack but it does diminish it, she explains.

Ask for help when you need it

This is so hard and it can be hard to ask for help, but please do that if you need to, mama. You might not even have to leave your house to do it. A new study shows that virtual therapy can be a very effective treatment for depression, and can be even better than in-person therapy sessions.

Dr. Zena Samaan is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at McMaster University and a senior author on the study. When CBC News asked why virtual therapy can be so good, Samaan's answer was perfect for 2020.

"It's accessible. It's more private. People felt it was more personal because they are in their own home, private environment than in a building in a waiting area," said Samaan, adding that virtual treatments can mean people don't have to have child care to get help.

Many therapists offer video therapy now and there are even apps like Talkspace or Better Help that can help you get virtual therapy.

Unfortunately, a lack of insurance coverage can be a barrier for moms seeking mental health support. If you can, talk to your doctor. If you can't do that, call 211 for local resources or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357 (if you have no insurance or are underinsured, the operator will be able to refer you to your state office for additional guidance).

If you have recently had a baby you can call the Postpartum Support International (PSI) Helpline at 1-800-944-4773.

*Please note: If you feel you are in any danger or need immediate assistance please call 9-1-1 or your medical provider.

[A version of this post was first published on April 1, 2020. It has been updated.]


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