Generous parental leave protects against poorer mental health, study results show

Mothers, in particular, benefit when they receive longer leaves and policies that offer incentives or wage substitutions, the analysis indicates.

Parental leave has been found to protect against poorer mental health, particularly among mothers, and demonstrate beneficial effects that continue into later life, according to the results of a review published in The Lancet Public Health.1

Investigators from the Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Global Public Health and Stockholm University’s Department of Public Health Sciences conducted a systemic review to determine the relationship between mental health and parental leave in parents in the international setting.1

“Becoming a parent can be stressful for both parents. We tend to think only of the enormous hormonal and physical changes experienced by the mother, but we also have to think that the transition to parenthood is stressful for couples,” Sol P Juárez, associate professor and lecturer in the Department of Public Health Sciences at Stockholm University, he said in a statement.1

“Usually 10% to 20% of mothers and up to 10% of fathers are said to be affected. Therefore, we wanted to systematically review all published scientific evidence to see if parental leave can help alleviate mental health symptoms among parents,” Juárez said.1

Findings from the review showed that parental leave protects against worse mental health conditions, including burnout, depressive symptoms, general mental health, mental health care use and psychological distress, especially for mothers.1

Beneficial effects were associated with more generous parental leave, such as longer duration of leave, the investigators said.1

They searched 5 online databases up to August 29, 2022 and included a total of 45 studies in the review.1

“This is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date. We looked for a connection between different aspects of parental leave, such as the length of the leave and whether the leave was paid or unpaid, and their associations with mental health in both mothers and fathers,” said Amy Heshmati, PhD student at ‘Stockholm University. in the statement.1

“We also studied the indirect effect of 1 parent taking parental leave on their partner’s mental health,” she said.

The benefits also continued later in life for the mothers, the investigators said.

However, the results among fathers were inconclusive.1

Less research has focused on fathers, but the review still shows fathers improved mental health with parental leave policies that offer wage replacement or incentives, including absorption quotas, the investigators said.1

Postpartum depression occurs after having a baby and is more intense and lasts longer than the typical baby blues many new mothers experience, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include crying more often than usual, feelings of anger, feeling excessively anxious or worried, and withdrawn.2

Recent research findings show that about 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the CDC.

The rate of postpartum depression diagnoses is on the rise and was 7 times higher in 2015 than in 2000.2

Postpartum depression is a treatable condition.

References

1. Generous parental leave protects against poorer mental health. EurekAlert. Press release. January 3, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/975509

2. Depression during and after pregnancy. CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION. Updated April 29, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/maternal-depression/index.html

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