Depression Strikes Many Moms of Young Children
By Elizabeth Heubeck
By now we’ve all heard of postpartum depression, which affects about 10 percent of new mothers after delivery.
It turns out, however, that mothers are not out of the woods when their infants become toddlers. In fact, depression among mothers of toddlers may be far more common than postpartum depression, and equally damaging.
Anthony Chico, M.D., a psychiatrist on staff at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, weighs in on why moms of toddlers may face a greater-than-average risk for depression, and he offers suggestions that all mothers of young children can use to improve their mental health.
“I think a lot of parents don’t take care of themselves when they’re caring for others. By losing sight of our own needs, we put ourselves in a more vulnerable position [for depression],” Chico says.
Subsequently, mothers of toddlers suffer a disproportionately high rate of depressive symptoms. In a 1994 study published in the journal Pediatrics, of the 233 mothers of toddlers who were screened, 42 percent exhibited depressive symptoms. Also, mothers who expressed dissatisfaction with their employment status were almost four times more likely to be depressed as those who didn’t. And, interestingly, mothers working part-time were only half as likely as those employed full-time or not at all to suffer from depressive symptoms.
These findings dovetail with Chico’s observations.
“For some mothers who stay home, there becomes an isolation factor—especially if, prior to having children, she had an active professional or social network,” he describes.
Working mothers face a different set of challenges.
“Some moms have a guilt factor. They wonder: ‘Am I putting economics ahead of my children?’” Chico says.
Plus, mothers of toddlers who work full time may become overwhelmed by the competing obligations they have to their children and to their jobs.
Tots Affected, Too
Though the reasons for depression vary among mothers of young children, depression poses similar risks to the toddlers. Young children of severely depressed mothers are almost three times more likely to suffer accidental injuries than those whose mothers are not depressed, according to a study published in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.
University of Alabama psychologists who led the study suggest that mothers who develop these hallmark symptoms of depression—inattention, poor concentration, and irritability—might provide less consistent supervision and enforcement of safety rules, thereby inadvertently placing their children at heightened risk for accidental injury.
Chico suggests that breaking out of the isolation inherent to many stay-at-home mothers’ lifestyle may reduce stress and keep depressive symptoms at bay.
“We have to allow ourselves to give ourselves a break from these demanding little creatures who are always wanting and needing things,” he says.
Chico offers the following suggestions:
Consider joining a parenting support group.
Develop a regular routine to look forward to.
Find respite from child care duties.
Incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
Avoid the temptation to use alcohol or drugs as an escape.
Sometimes, simply taking some time for themselves allows mothers of young children to feel more like their old selves. But when that’s not enough, it may be time to seek professional intervention.
“We all have bad days and rough nights. But when we’re seeing patterns, over weeks, of progressively worsening depressive symptoms, that’s concerning,” says Chico. BC
Signs of Depression
Feeling restless or moody
Feeling sad, hopeless, and overwhelmed
Crying a lot
Having no energy or motivation
Eating too little or too much
Sleeping too little or too much
Having trouble focusing or making decisions
Having memory problems
Feeling worthless and guilty
Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
Withdrawing from friends and family
Having headaches, aches and pains, or stomach problems that don’t go away
Source: National Women’s Health Information Center
© Baltimore’s Child – June 2009