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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.

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.]


Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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I have two kids—and I think I'm done

The idea of "more," making more money, obtaining more things—and in my case, creating more life—is not necessarily the ticket to a happier life.

I met my best friend Katie in fifth grade and one of our most favorite games to play was MASH. Our future fates would be decided by one "magic number" where one of us counted the rings on a spiral circle after the other screamed STOP as loud as humanly possible. "Future Husband" and "Number of Children" were clearly our two favorite categories. I remember my "magic combination," and it was marrying Mel Gibson plus having four kids.

And my plan was to do all of this by the time I reached 27. Getting married and having children would be the ultimate climax of life. At the age of nine, the pressure was on to best prepare for the long climb to the top.

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