Research has shown that generous parental leave policies can have a positive impact on mental health, particularly for mothers. Parental leave policies that allow for extended time off from work following the birth or adoption of a child have been associated with lower rates of postpartum depression and anxiety.
According to a systematic review published in The Lancet Public Health, being on parental leave protects against poorer mental health, particularly among mothers, with evidence of this beneficial effect continuing in later life.
A systematic review was conducted by researchers from Stockholm University’s Department of Public Health Sciences and Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Global Public Health to investigate the relationship between parental leave and mental health in parents from an international perspective.
“Both parents may experience stress when becoming parents. We tend to focus on the mother’s enormous hormonal and physical changes, but we must also consider how stressful the transition to parenthood is for couples” Sol P Juárez, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer at Stockholm University’s Department of Public Health Sciences and the study’s Principal Investigator, explains. For example, parents face child-care challenges, career uncertainties, and financial pressures as a result of lower income.
An intriguing finding is that the protective effects of parental leave are not only observed shortly after childbirth, but that these protective effects of parental leave can continue into later life for mothers.Helena Honkaniemi
“This may explain why mental disorders after childbirth are relatively common; it is estimated that 10 to 20% of mothers and up to 10% of fathers are affected. As a result, we wanted to conduct a systematic review of all published scientific evidence to determine whether parental leave can help alleviate mental health symptoms in parents” Sol P Juárez explains.
The review concludes that parental leave, particularly for mothers, is protective against poorer mental health, including depressive symptoms, general mental health, psychological distress, burnout, and mental healthcare use.
“However, the beneficial effects are associated with more generous parental leave schemes, for example with longer duration of leave,” highlights Amy Heshmati, doctoral candidate and the first author of the study.
The researchers searched five online databases until August 29, 2022. A total of 45 studies were included in the study.
“This is the most extensive systematic review on the subject to date. We looked for a link between different aspects of parental leave, such as length of leave and whether it was paid or unpaid, and mental health in both mothers and fathers. We even looked into the impact of one parent taking parental leave on their partner’s mental health “Amy Heshmati agrees.
“An intriguing finding is that the protective effects of parental leave are not only observed shortly after childbirth, but that these protective effects of parental leave can continue into later life for mothers,” says Helena Honkaniemi, postdoctoral researcher and review author.
The results among fathers were inconclusive. “While there has been less research on fathers, this research suggests that fathers’ mental health has improved with parental leave policies that offer adequate wage replacement or incentives, such as uptake quotas,” Helena Honkaniemi adds.
The review shows that generous parental leave can help to alleviate or prevent mental health symptoms, particularly for mothers, which is an important policy finding.