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The mental health crisis of working moms

October 25, 2022 |3 minute read time

A visibly upset mom at a laptop with her baby on her lap

Amy1 is a working mother with three children in middle school through college. Three years into the pandemic, after cutting back on work, activities and friendships to support her family, she feels like a shell of her former self.

“I feel like my 24-hour job now is holding my family together,” she says. “But lately I feel like everything is coming apart. And some days I can barely breathe.”

Research shows that women have borne the brunt of the pandemic, leaving the workforce in greater numbers, taking on more household duties and supporting children with remote learning.

Since the pandemic began, 1 million U.S. women have left the workforce and not returned, reports the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

And mothers who remained at work now face a mental health epidemic: According to 2022 Harris Poll data commissioned by CVS Health®, more working mothers have been diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression (42%) than the general population (28%), their coworkers without kids (25%) and even working fathers (35%). Working mothers were also more likely to report that their mental health had worsened in the last year (33%).

Cara McNulty, DPA, president of Behavioral Health & Mental Well-being at CVS Health, is also a mother of two teenagers.

“The pandemic impacted absolutely everyone’s mental health,” says Cara. “But the added stress for working mothers was magnified.”

Making matters worse, working moms typically care for themselves last.

“On an airplane, you're supposed to put your own oxygen mask on first and then your child’s. Women inherently do the exact opposite. They're taking care of those they love before they prioritize themselves.”

With her husband and children claiming the common spaces in the home for work and school, Amy moved her own workspace into her bedroom. One of her children is struggling with depression and she often stays awake at night worrying.

“There has been no place to escape the constant stress and sadness,” she says. “I’ve tried to be strong for everyone and to help them all feel safe, but now I’m just exhausted.”

Asking for help

According to Harris Poll data, in addition to higher rates of anxiety and depression, working mothers are also the least likely of any group to seek help for their mental health. Just as concerning: Four in 10 working mothers don’t think their mental health will ever return to its pre-pandemic state, the Harris Poll shows.