As postnatal depression hits the news yet again, more and more women have come forward to tell their stories about struggling with depression after having a baby. And it’s not just new mums who are suffering – many mums of toddlers and young children are finding life tough too.
The good news is that while depression can be a complicated condition, we believe that there’s a lot mums can do to help protect themselves from depression – and beat it. And a major part of this is by finding a way to work, freelance or start a business on your terms.
How working can help mums beat depression
According to an NHS report in 2011, 10-15% of new mums are affected by postnatal depression. And a new poll this year of 1,500 women who suffered from depression during pregnancy or after birth revealed that 12% struggled to cope with concerns about work and money, and 22% felt pressure to ‘do things right’.
As shocking as these figures are, they’re not terribly surprising. Having a baby is a life-changing experience, and can leave many mums struggling to come to terms with a new existence that bears little resemblance to their old life, and often isn’t set up to meet the vital emotional needs that protect all of us from depression.
Our basic emotional needs and depression
If you read the excellent Depression Learning Path, you’ll realise that to function properly and healthily, we need to meet a number of basic human emotional needs:
- The need to give and receive attention.
- The need to care for our body and wellbeing.
- The need to have purpose and goals.
- The need to connect to something greater than ourselves.
- The need for stimulation and challenge.
- The need for intimacy and connection.
- The need for a sense of control.
For most of us, these needs are covered by our home life, family, friends, pleasure pursuits and work, but when we have a baby or young children, it’s easy to neglect some of these needs. For example:
- By not getting enough sleep, and then relying on instant sugar or caffeine rushes to get us through the day.
- By not seeing as much of our old friends and colleagues and feeling isolated and lonely.
- By giving up work and losing the sense of accomplishment and validation we used to get through achieving goals and earning respect and rewards for our efforts.
How working meets many of our emotional needs
In fact, when you look at the list of our basic emotional needs, you begin to realise just how important work of some kind can be to our emotional health:
- Our relationships with colleagues allow us to give and receive attention and enjoy intimacy and connection.
- Our work gives us purpose, goals, stimulation and challenge.
- Working for a business (our own or someone else’s) connects us to something greater than ourselves.
- Earning our own money and using our skills and experience gives us a sense of influence and control.
So when you take a break from work for maternity leave, or decide not to return to your old job after having a baby, it’s important to recognise what needs you’re no longer meeting, and look for other ways to satisfy them.
How new mums can meet their basic emotional needs
There are a number of ways you can look to meet your basic emotional needs after having a baby. Baby groups are a great way to meet new friends that live in your local area and are at the same life stage as you. Not only can you share the ups and downs of being a new mum, but if you’re lucky enough to meet a mum who you genuinely connect and share similar interests and experiences with, you can build a rewarding new friendship that can help to meet your needs for connection and intimacy.
It’s also important, once the initial weeks or months of getting to grips with a newborn are passed, to look for ways that you can meet your needs for goals, challenges and control. Living your life at the whim of a demanding baby or toddler and not being able to even spend a lunch hour ambling round the shops or reading a magazine can take a toll on you after a while. Lots of mums also find it difficult not earning their own salary, and feeling free to spend their money on what they want.
Why starting a business can help you beat depression
It’s no surprise then that lots of mums are inspired to start a business from home. It allows them to fulfil their needs for challenge and goals, and gives them a sense of purpose and control. Networking with other business mums – either through groups like Mumpreneurs or online through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – helps them feel connected and less lonely.
Why freelancing can help you beat depression
Other mums turn their skills and talents into successful freelance careers, working on their own terms, around childcare, from home. Again, if you decide to become a freelance mum, it’s important to stay connected to the outside world, making time to meet up with friends for coffee or even joining a thriving online community of freelancers who are active on sites like Facebook and Twitter (a great place not just to chat when you get a few minutes, but to spread the word about your services and pick up new work).
Why working flexibly can help you beat depression
Going alone – either by starting a business or becoming a freelancer isn’t right for every mum though. Some women prefer the security and routine of employment. If the thought of committing yourself to a contract doesn’t appeal, you could do what many experienced women do and work on temporary contracts only. Or if you like the idea of greater security, you can search for an employer that offers flexible working terms.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to look for work that will stimulate and challenge you, and that you will enjoy. Simply taking a job because the hours are right isn’t the best answer. If the work is too easy or demoralisingly below your previous level, you may find boredom and resentment start to build up – and your basic emotional needs won’t be met.
Depression is a complex disorder, and while it’s true that simply finding fulfilment and connecting with others through work many not be an instant cure, it can certainly help to protect mums from suffering from the condition by ensuring that the basic needs we all need to meet in order to remain emotionally healthy are met. And help mums with depression to work through it.
Are you struggling with depression, or know someone who is? We recommend reading the Depression Learning Path, to help you understand how depression works, how to escape the cycle of depression and how to find a good therapist.Hannah Martin