COVID-19’s Unending Impact on the Maternal Mental Health Crisis

At the end of 2021, many were beginning to feel a shift toward an easing of the pandemic. A more positive outlook with growing vaccination rates, increasing boosters and the seemingly diminishing Delta variant brought both relief and a wave of momentum toward the new year. However, the reality we face in 2022 is that we are still very much in this pandemic as the emergence and transmissibility of the Omicron variant has changed everything.

Many parents are back to facing tough decisions, especially those with children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. As a mom of a 5-year-old and 2-year-old, I share in the fear and uncertainty many parents face as we enter this new year.

We are juggling the calculated yet imperative risk of sending children to school or daycare in hope that our children can have some semblance of normalcy in the classroom. Yet, we feel paranoia with every sniffle and endure the constant risk-benefit analysis over every decision and the mental gymnastics that our child could exposed to COVID-19 at any moment.

With the spread of the Omicron variant, we are seeing firsthand the unpredictability of this virus. The reality is that despite how much we want to get back to normal and are looking toward a post-pandemic world, parents are still very much in the thick of it.

Now more than ever, we continue to see the impact this pandemic is having on parents, especially women as we struggle to balance work and family life. Women are struggling to stay in the workforce or at times even being forced to leave. And as we continue to ride out the waves and variants of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must reckon with the current and ongoing maternal mental health crisis.

Mental Health Burden on Women

There has been a disproportionate impact of this pandemic on the mental health of women and moms—especially women of color. To combat this, we must first have broad acknowledgement and steadfast commitment to address this mental health crisis from companies and society institutions alike.

As the pandemic originally stretched from weeks to months, research published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that women had “alarmingly high rates” of mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Then, as the pandemic progressed to over a year, it was reported that nearly one in 10 women quit a job due to a pandemic-related reason like a school and daycare closure.

Now, as we approach nearly two years of this pandemic, women and moms are straight up tired. According to research done by APCO Impact and the Marshall Plan for Moms, “71% of moms describe being a working mom during the pandemic as very challenging.” Further, 90% of these moms say they need more time off.

So Now What?

  • Public Health Mitigation: Broadly speaking, we must continue to focus on all of the public health mitigation tools in our arsenal to fight this pandemic. Public health departments, cities, states and federal entities must continue to focus on wholistic methods for the mitigation of this virus. This includes masking, comprehensive testing programs and of course, vaccinations.
  • Global Health Equity: We live in a global society. The ongoing spread of this virus in one country is a problem for every country. We must work on ensuring equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines around the world. The continual low vaccination rates in parts of the world due to vaccine inequity are cataclysmic. And abysmal rates of vaccine confidence in other countries like our own where we actually have access to a life-saving vaccine only further hinders strides toward mitigating the virus. Ongoing efforts must continue to bolster trust in science and achieve equity in all parts of the globe.
  • Supporting Mental Health and Women in the Workforce: We can continue to advance federal policies that support paid leave. And we must understand that as much as businesses want to get back to a post-pandemic world, we are still very much in an unprecedented pandemic and these businesses must show compassion to the impact of this on employees. Outside of legislative solutions, there remains a critical need for companies to provide flexible schedules to accommodate last minute changes at schools and childcare juggling. Corporations must reevaluate their flexible paid leave policies to prepare for not only employees getting sick but having to take care of children and other relatives as well. The implementation of these policies will help moms by alleviating stress and help to achieve balance.