Stay-at-home moms more depressed than working moms, study finds

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By Lisa Flam
There’s meal prep, laundry, cleaning, and  trying to put all of those toys and games away faster than they're being taken out.Bad weather can keep you in PJs an entire day, and there’s always the question of when exactly to grab that shower.

Is it any wonder that a Gallup survey of 60,000 women found that stay-at-home moms are more likely to have felt depression, sadness, anger and worry than working mothers?

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“I didn’t find it shocking at all,” says contributor Robi Ludwig, a psychotherapist. “There have been studies that suggest the happiest women are women who have kids and can work part time and have a bit more flexibility over their schedule.”

While having a job forces a mom to get dressed for the outside world and interact with other adults, the isolation that can come with staying home can lead to more negative feelings, Ludwig says.

“Isolation is a killer,” she says. “We as human beings are not meant to be alone. The more we’re alone, the more we look at all the things we feel are not right with our lives. It contributes to people getting into a negative, self-attacking mentality.”

When it comes to stay-at-home moms, those with a child under 18 at home, the survey found that 41 percent felt worry, 26 percent felt sadness, 50 percent felt stress, 19 percent felt anger and 28 percent had been diagnosed with depression. For the working mothers, those who work part- or full-time with a child under 18 at home, the study found that 34 percent felt worry, 16 percent felt sadness, 48 percent felt stress, 14 percent felt anger and 17 percent were diagnosed with depression.

The survey results were based on telephone interviews conducted between Jan. 1 and April 30 of 60,799 women ages 18 to 64 living in the U.S. as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey. 

Working mothers were more likely to report that they were thriving, experiencing enjoyment and happiness, learning something interesting and yes, even smiling.

Even if a woman doesn’t love her job, just putting in a day's work and earning a paycheck can provide the sense of accomplishment that gives self worth, Ludwig says. On the other hand, facing all of the Groundhog Day moments that come with staying home (not another dirty diaper!), it’s hard to feel fulfilled when the job never ends.

“For some (stay-at-home) moms, they can feel like they’re in no-man’s land,” Ludwig says. “It’s hard to feel accomplished. It’s hard to define themselves because they’re overloaded with the have-to-dos of the home. It’s a job that’s never complete. There’s always something that needs to be done. They can feel like an indentured servant.”

Whether you work or stay home, mothers need to connect with their peers and find their purpose in life, Ludwig says. Even for the wealthiest mothers, shopping, lunching and working out is not enough, she says. Join a book club, a mother’s group or volunteer in the school system - something that makes you feel like you’re growing, she advises.

“The challenge for stay-at-home moms is it’s hard to feel like they’re growing,” Ludwig says. “If, for a period of time it’s not in the cards to have a job, find a purpose.”

“Find a way so your world is not just about unmade beds and making breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Ludwig says.

And as the mommy wars seem never to die down completely, those are words to live by. 

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