This land of liberty has many things to be proud of–a democratic government, freedom of speech, and the protection of human rights, to name a few. We are, however, embarrassingly behind most other developed nations when it comes to affording new moms paid maternity leave. As a result, many overwhelmed mothers find themselves thrust back into a stressful working environment shortly after giving birth. And, many suffer the added burden of postpartum depression.
While revamping the nation’s laws regarding maternity leave may be more than you can handle, there are things that you can do to assist your employees who suffer from postpartum depression.
Don’t Do “Nothing”
Studies show that the status quo does not work. According to “Postpartum Depressions Reduced With More Time Off Work,” a recent University of Maryland School of Public Health study has revealed that “women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depressive symptoms.” Furthermore, “Postpartum Depression: A Reality for Birth Mother, Surrogate Mother, and Others” adds that women who give birth are all subject to PPD for up to 12 months after the baby is born. And in the United States, the majority return to work after a brief three months.
For this reason, it is imperative that employers do what they can to make this transition more palatable and less stressful.
Stop the Stigma
One of the biggest barriers to women with postpartum depression getting the help they need, particularly with work-related issues, is the stigma associated with mental illness. Worries over being ostracized by co-workers, perceived as being weak, or fired prevent many women from disclosing their medical condition to their superiors and even their closest colleagues.
It is possible to create an atmosphere of acceptance within your company through education and changing perceptions. Invite a mental health professional to give a workshop or presentation to your employees. Ensure that your workers have access to the contact information for mental health support services. And foster an open-door policy, so employees feel comfortable disclosing and discussing their mental illness.
Health‘s “Depression in the Workplace: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” states that PPG, a Pittsburgh-based company, has been recognized for its commitment to employee mental health by the American Psychiatric Foundation’s Partnership for Workplace Mental Health. PPG’s corporate medical director, Alberto Colombi MD, states that “an employer’s main responsibility is to de-stigmatize depression, encourage self-screening, and help employees in need with the appropriate resources.”
Hone Your Sensitivity Skills
If you are uncomfortable dealing with an employee who is suffering from postpartum depression, imagine how uncomfortable she is feeling. Not only must she cope with her condition and a new baby, but she must also contend with your likely obvious discomfort. As an employer, it is your responsibility to overcome your uneasiness and support your team–including the ones that are suffering from postpartum depression.
Exercising strong listening skills is highly recommended. Sometimes your employees will need to simply vent or try to come up with a resolution to a work problem. Lending them an ear can make a world of difference.
“Tips for Supporting Someone with Postpartum Depression” advises using care when offering criticism as well–no matter how well-meaning and “constructive” you intend it to be. When someone is suffering from PPD, they become hypersensitive; therefore, you may need to re-frame your criticisms and use “I” statements instead of “you.”
Follow the Rules
New pregnancy discrimination federal guidelines under the Americans with Disabilities Act have been released recently and, as an employer of a company with 15 or more employees, it is your duty to familiarize yourself with them and adhere to them. As “How To Protect Yourself in the Workplace if You’re Suffering from Postpartum Depression” states, many people mistakenly believe that the ADA only protects people with permanent disabilities, but it actually includes temporary conditions like depression and anxiety–including postpartum depression. Operating outside of the law can not only lead to a lawsuit being filed against you, but it also adds another stressor to an already overburdened postpartum depression sufferer.
Creating a supportive workplace for her to return to will not make her life much more manageable, but it will also benefit her baby too. So step up and become the hero of this story. Your team will thank you.
What was the most challenging part of working with postpartum depression? What little acts of kindness helped you cope?