Like any mental health condition, perinatal anxiety and depression has a significant impact not only on a person’s day-to-day functioning, their ability to cope and be well, but also on their ability to engage productively in the workplace.
I know this because I experienced it.
When my second child was 8 months old, I was diagnosed with postnatal anxiety. This diagnosis came within a week of my return to work after taking time off on parental leave.
Without a supportive work environment (and particularly, manager) I wouldn’t have been able to keep my employment, be given the space to accept help, have an avenue for purpose and identity beyond parenthood, and continue to contribute financially to my family. If I hadn’t have felt comfortable or safe disclosing what I was going through, I absolutely would have left my job. And to think of how much more stress that would have led to, to have lost my job at a time where I really needed both the money and the purpose, is unsettling to say the least.
The impact of my workplace’s response on my recovery can’t be understated.
Knowing I could confide in my leader completely removed that additional stress; like I said, I truly don’t know how things would have turned out for me if I had had that to worry about. We discussed options and devised a plan where I would take some extra time off with a medical certificate, then work from home (which was no issue given COVID, and the fact that I worked in a role that had this option) at reduced hours for a few weeks while I explored my health treatment and worked towards things stabilising for me.
There are many reasons why workplaces matter for better mental health.
According to Gidget Foundation, unidentified and untreated perinatal depression and anxiety can result in higher rates of absenteeism, reduced productivity and lower return to work rates, proving costly for employers.
We know that 1 in 3 primary caregivers and 1 in 10 secondary caregivers will experience perinatal depression and/or anxiety.
When you consider those statistics, it is clear to see that organisations employing parents will likely have members of staff who have experienced this firsthand or in their family. It makes good business sense for organisations to invest in initiatives that support a mentally healthy workplace. In fact, in 2014, PwC research showed a $2.30 average return on investment for every $1 invested in creating a mentally healthy workplace.
So that’s the bottom-line reason a workplace would be wise to invest in increasing capability in their leaders on mental health, and why building a culture of positive wellbeing makes good business sense.
There is also the fact that workplaces can be paramount to the recovery of individuals experiencing perinatal depression and/or anxiety. We spend more time at work than anywhere else, not to mention the fact that work can be both an incredible resource to recovery as well as a potential contributor to stress. Using the workplace as a tool in my recovery both removed any risk of this being an additional contributor to stress, increased my sense of purpose and contribution to society and allowed me to maintain my important relationships at my workplace.
Our communities – including social, geographical, familial and work-related – all contribute to our wellbeing. This Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week, I encourage all workplaces to reflect on how they can support their staff through the difficult life transitions that we may all face.
Also published on LinkedIn.
Every year WayAhead coordinates Perinatal Depression and Anxiety Awareness Week in November.
This year, Steph shared her experiences of perinatal mental health issues as well as the supports that helped her through.