It’s no use talking about maternal mental health without addressing the causes.
I may have mentioned it before, but I get sent a lot of poll results. Everyone and his aunt seems to do one these days and many of them are about working parents, often to promote a website or a product, sometimes a highly unlikely one. But my eye did pass over one last week that was sparked by the latest ONS figures on the growing numbers of mums who are working. It talked about the mental health impact and suggested high levels of anxiety in working mums and a lack of time to do anything about it.
I am sure that many parents feel stressed about the whole work life thing and the pressure on women on every front continues to be ever more demanding. I am sure too that there is little time to do anything about it because what can you do? In the absence of greater support generally, what is your GP – probably themselves suffering from acute anxiety – going to say? Popping a pill or listening to whale music is really not going to deal with the causes of the problem and certainly the former may create its own problems in the future. The people behind the poll offer transcranial magnetic stimulation for depression…
There’s a lot of focus on mental health at work at the moment, but if this is not accompanied by something that treats the causes will it make any difference? Nevertheless, it’s great to have a forum to talk about mental health problems – so many people don’t have time to even see their friends, let alone open up to them about how they are really feeling. Instead they have to make do with communicating via social media which, as we know, has its pluses and minuses – seeing other people’s heavily curated family life can make you are really failing, for instance. But, although I am a big believer in the importance of being able to see the dark humour in much of working parenthood, talking about problems without being able to do anything about them is not going to make a huge difference.
We’ve individualised the whole working parent thing to such a degree that we are all stuck in our isolated silos, trying to get through each and every week, dreaming about the next stage rather than living in the present. Childcare support is often about individual parents being able to jump through complicated hoops to get some money off. Having children is seen as an individual ‘lifestyle choice’.
Every parenting decision is put under the microscope and its failings exposed. Family often live far away. Commuting takes up valuable time and adds extra stress. Politics has divided people. It’s easier to sit at home watching Netflix rather than speak to your neighbours, if you even know who they are.
I’m not sure what the solution is, outside of the obvious things like understanding and flexibility, but at the centre must be some degree of freeing up parents’ time so they are not so exhausted that they can only focus on getting through the week and preparing for the next one. Exhaustion and mental health are inter-related. It must also involve jobs that are adequately paid so that people can live decent lives on less than all-the-time working.
What recent equal pay cases have shown is not that women want the enormous salaries that some men have, but that they want to be paid equally. The huge gap between people who do ‘ordinary’ jobs and those in senior roles, between, say, news presenters and ‘entertainment’ presenters who essentially do the same thing, is ridiculous. No-one is worth the huge sums that some senior managers or ‘top’ people get. It is distorting everything and causing enormous misery. Parental mental health is just one symptom because parents are often at the sharp end of inequality. There needs to be a more level playing field so that everyone can live a good life.