Staying at home with children can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be challenging at the same time. Research shows that spending your entire day around children can be socially isolating. Coupled with the fact that for some women who stay home, the trade-off might be missing out on opportunities to advance in the workplace, and the realities of being a stay-at-home mom become even more complex.
Depression in stay-at-home moms might not be talked about often, but it’s a very real problem. In studies, some women who stay at home report a decline in their mental health. To make things worse, the stigma against stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) may result in women remaining silent about their feelings and suffering alone.
Keep reading to learn more about common difficulties some stay-at-home moms face in regard to mental health, how to find help, and ways to fight the depression so many SAHMs face today.
The Stigma of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom
Yes, there are a lot of positives that come from being able to stay home with your children, but it can be overwhelming at times, too. In addition to child care, many women have a long list of responsibilities outside of “just” taking care of the kids. They often have to manage household chores, prepare meals, manage the family finances, and shop for essentials for the entire family. While workers get to punch the proverbial clock at the end of the day, a SAHM’s job really is never done. It can be alot.
Unfortunately, our society often — intentionally or not — simply doesn’t acknowledge the complexities of being a stay-at-home mom or recognize the hard work it entails. Some people assume at-home moms have it easy, relaxing all day and enjoying the perks of “not working” — but any mom will tell you, that’s likely far from her reality. Let’s not forget that some women are judged for putting their careers on hold.
The stigma associated with staying home to raise children is damaging in more ways than one. In many aspects, perceptions like these steal some of the reward from brave moms of the world, who, even if they made the decision willingly, ultimately might be sacrificing something of themselves to be home, too.
“The idea of being a stay-at-home mom has changed a lot, but some stigmas surrounding this decision still exist. Some believe that being a SAHM is somehow easier than working or that these moms have more time for themselves. There’s also the belief that they are ‘giving up’ a career for motherhood. A lot goes into the decision of being a SAHM, and a lot of issues can arise from making that choice. Understanding that the decision to be a SAHM is just as validating as having a career is important.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
What Is Stay-at-Home Mom Depression?
Staying at home with your kids isn’t always going to be full of great days and happy times, especially if you don’t feel that you’re appreciated by others. Not only are SAHMs busy, but the daily routine of childrearing can cause some women to feel as though they’re losing their sense of identity. A depressed stay-at-home mom might feel sad, isolated, depressed, or even helpless.
Those stigmas we talked about can result in some women feeling like they can’t complain, or that they don’t have a right to even speak up about how they feel. There’s a common attitude (from some, not all) that SAHMs are “lucky” to be able to be at home with their kids. While that can be true, it can also be just as true that the job is taxing, overwhelming, and at times, stressful.
A big part of the challenge is the fact that stay-at-home moms generally take care of their young children during the regular 9 – 5 hours of a typical job, only to keep caring for them after those “typical” work hours end. Adding to their depression might be the fact that women at home can be lonely. This can be especially true if they’re hesitant to talk about their feelings because they’re afraid it might make them seem ungrateful.
Do stay-at-home moms have higher rates of depression?
Depression in stay-at-home moms is unfortunately fairly common. According to research from a Gallup poll, stay-at-home moms are more likely to report feeling depressed than both employed mothers and employed women without children. While depression is an issue for stay-at-home moms across every income bracket, depression levels are strikingly high for low-income women.
“Depression occurs in a lot of individuals, but SAHMs can be a bit more susceptible to it. In addition to the hormones from post-pregnancy, the possibility of PPD/PPA, and the stressors of being a parent to new or multiple children, there are the assumptions that household responsibilities are also in the realm of a SAHM. All these stressors, along with the possible isolation of being away from other adults most of the day, can be a major indicator that depression in SAHMs can occur.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
What are the main reasons so many SAHMs are depressed? It turns out there are a few common causes of depression.
5 Causes of Stay-at-Home Mom Depression
1. Hormone fluctuation
Pregnancy and childbirth can cause significant hormonal changes, putting women at increased risk for depression. It’s estimated that 1 in every 8 women experiences some form of postpartum depression (PPD). While PPD is a risk for all new moms — both working and stay-at-home — the isolation some moms at home can feel might make it harder to get the help they need.
What you can do: Routinely getting out of the house and engaging in social activities can help some women recover more quickly or notice if their depression is becoming an issue. We know, it’s easier said than done. Some days, the absolute last thing you want to do is get dressed, get out of the house, and see people, but if you can just do that first part, you’ll almost always find it beneficial. Above all else, talk to your doctor.
Postpartum depression is a real thing, and there are times when you need help from a medical professional. Whether that means therapy, medication, or both, your doctor can help you assess your depression and determine if you need to take things a step further in getting help.
2. Sleep deprivation
It’s well-known that caring for a new baby means less sleep for new parents. On average, new moms lose over an hour of sleep each night. When women are tired and sleep-deprived, they’re more likely to feel irritable or depressed.
What you can do: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Even a 20-minute power nap can help you recharge and re-energize. Resist the urge to catch up on housework, pay bills, or start dinner when you have a few precious minutes of downtime. Give yourself some grace — you’re not Wonder Woman. Take a breather when you have the chance to.
3. Social isolation
Even though SAHMs rarely have “alone time,” the irony of staying at home with children is that it leaves many moms feeling lonely. Women with young kids may not have many opportunities to leave the house or even regularly have stimulating adult conversations. These feelings of social isolation can be a trigger for depression.
What you can do: Join a Mommy-and-Me class, go to the park, find a story time, or start a walking club with some other local mama. Anything you can do that gets you engaged and involved with other adults can do wonders for your sense of self and mood.
Don’t forget about taking some time for yourself, too. While not everyone can afford the luxury of hiring a sitter, some moms get creative, working out a system where they trade off mom duties with a trusted friend once a week or a couple of times a month. Sometimes, just having a couple of hours to yourself to run errands or practice some much-deserved self-care can do wonders.
4. A lack of identity
Busy moms don’t always have enough time to take care of themselves or engage in activities they once enjoyed. On top of that, many moms report feeling guilty when they set aside time for themselves. A life that revolves solely around children, with little time to give to self-care, can contribute to a loss of identity.
What you can do: Even if it’s just something simple, like going for a 15-minute walk by yourself, reading a great book while the kids nap, taking a hot bath after you get them down for the night, or sneaking out on a Saturday to go shopping or get your nails done, make sure that you do something for yourself every once in a while. Do something you love or something that makes you happy. It’s one way you can regain a sense of self that can so easily feel lost if all you do is care for others.
5. Losing financial independence
For some women, leaving the workforce means becoming financially dependent on others. Not only can a loss of income result in financial stress, but it can also cause some women to feel like a burden, that they’re trapped, or as if they’re not contributing enough to the family financially — all of which can add to feelings of anxiety and depression.
What you can do: Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Let them know if you’re feeling anxious about the fact that you’re not contributing financially, or if you’re struggling with losing your financial sense of worth since you quit working. When they know how you feel, they might be able to reassure you about the ways that you are contributing to the family.
Coping with Stay-at-Home Mom Depression
It’s important for a depressed stay-at-home mom to make time for herself and her mental health. Something as simple as getting dressed every morning can help ease depression symptoms. Moms can also benefit from having time to themselves without kids, even if they don’t leave home. Take that hour during naptime to read, watch a TV show, or listen to a podcast. Little acts of self care like this can help harried, stressed mamas relax and decompress, even if it’s just for a short amount of time.
No doubt, there’s great reward in staying at home to raise children, but we can’t discount that for many women, it is a trade-off. Maybe it’s not your choice to stay home, or maybe it’s something you’ve dreamed about being able to do for a long time. Whatever your reality, giving up freedom, your career, or some of your sense of self-worth and the ability to provide financially isn’t something to take lightly. Make sure that you’re honoring these parts, too.
Support groups for mothers
Making connections with other women and moms can be invaluable. Having other mom friends gives SAHMs the chance for adult interaction. Local mothers’ groups, hobby clubs, and online communities are all excellent resources.
“Burnout can occur so it’s important that some level of self-care is considered for these moms. This may include joining mom groups, arranging playdates, or exercising with the children, to start. Learning ways to engage in support systems and seeking help are important in coping with SAHM depression.”Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC
Beyond all of this, it’s important for struggling moms to ask for help. Women shouldn’t be afraid to share if they’re having a difficult time. Talking to partners, families, and friends and asking for support can make a huge difference in overcoming depression.
Therapy for depression
Women who have serious depressive symptoms should talk to their healthcare provider or therapist and look at other ways to treat depression.
Do you know a mom who needs help? Are you a mom who’s struggling? Reach out today to find out how women can get the support they deserve. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that allows moms to get therapy for depression without leaving the house. With Talkspace, you don’t need to worry about babysitting or coordinating your therapy appointments around other errands or nap times. You can get professional help from the comfort of your own home. That’s something every mom deserves.
Too many women are afraid to speak up about stay-at-home mom depression. If you’re a woman who’s struggling with feelings of sadness or isolation, first, know that you’re not alone. If you know a mom who’s having a difficult time, tell her she’s not alone. Moms shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about their feelings or prioritize themselves regularly. At the end of the day, moms need to care for their own health, physical and mental. It’s just as important as caring for their children.