Tom Clark — People suffering from depression often feel anxious, sad, and hopeless. Depression can be most devastating for mothers of young children.
In extreme cases, sufferers may experience fatigue, lethargy, loss of appetite, overeating, irritability, and deteriorating health. Mothers of young children that need to earn an income face difficult choices with respect to finding and keeping employment. These decisions include solving the problem of reliable childcare and how to pay for it. The stresses generated by dealing with these issues can lead to depression in working mothers because of worries about lost time with their children and concerns over managing a career.
Stay-at-home mothers do not necessarily fare any better. Therapists and social workers advise us that remaining at home all of the time can lead to isolation and social disconnection which can have the effect of increasing the risk for maternal depression in certain people. The importance of the matter has as much to do with the well-being of our young children as their mothers because maternal depression by itself creates health risks for these children.
Depression risk depends upon preferences and job quality
What is important for us to know is not which is better, working or staying at home, but rather what the actual, root causes of maternal depression are. As it turns out, the answers that we are looking for emerge when we analyze the expectations and preferences of the subjects, as well as the job quality of those subjects who choose to work. Studies have shown that mothers who stay home because they prefer it exhibit a measurably lower risk of depression. In contrast, stay-at-home moms who would prefer to be out working, but can’t, are more likely to be subject to higher risks of feeling depressed. Further research indicates that these mothers are at the same risk of depression as those subjects that would rather stay home with their children but are not able to because they need to work, or because they work at what they consider to be low-quality jobs.
It seems that employment by itself is neither good nor bad for women with children as it relates to depression. A lot depends on the kind of jobs the subjects in these studies find. Working mothers with low-quality jobs are at the greatest risk of depression in this study even if they really want to work. On the other hand, statistics show that mothers that hold down high-quality jobs (as they see it), face a substantially lower risk of maternal depression even if their preference was to not work at all.
The takeaways are clear: High-quality jobs are associated with lower numbers of working mothers showing symptoms of depression. The opposite is true for mothers in lower-quality jobs that would prefer to work. Relatively high levels of depressive symptoms were revealed in stay-at-home mothers who want to work outside the home but don’t. These outcomes were comparable with subjects employed in what they considered low-quality jobs. Overall, mothers with the least risk of depression were those who preferred to work outside of the home at what they considered a high-quality job.
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