According to the World Health Organisation, almost one in five women will experience a mental health condition during pregnancy or in the year after the birth of their children.
Among women with perinatal mental health conditions, 20% will experience suicidal thoughts or undertake acts of self-harm.
This week (1-7 May 2023) is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, which focuses on mental health problems before, during and after pregnancy.
How can employers and HR teams support employees experiencing postpartum depression and other perinatal mental health conditions?
Support employees beyond parental leave
Amy Looper, author of Leading Motherhood, said educating leadership teams will help to create a psychologically safe culture where parents feel supported before and after parental leave.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Supporting working parents goes beyond having a parental leave policy. It includes inclusive planning and communication pre-parental leave and a flexible return to work program.
“Parents are some of the most dedicated employees juggling a lot of personal responsibility, and they perform their highest when they feel seen and heard.”
Offer specialist support from professionals
Alison Wilde, co-founder of people transformation consultancy Birdsoup, recommended seeking specialist advice when forming supportive parental policy.
She told HR magazine: “When it comes to transitioning any employee who is suffering or has suffered from postnatal depression back into the workplace, maternity coaching can help to provide the space and support for individuals to navigate a likely overwhelming first few months.
“It is important to develop good communication with the parent, their line manager and colleagues from a place of understanding, so that the right support is in place and any requirements are dealt with in good time and with empathy.”
Create a bespoke approach for each employee
Though it is estimated one in 10 women are affected by postnatal depression, parental career coach Clara Wilcox said the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
She encouraged employers to carefully consider return to work procedure.
Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “An effective way to support parents during their return to work is to create a positive and structured transition.
“This can include staggered returns, temporary shifts in responsibilities, and a structured induction to help them reintroduce themselves to the process, people, and priorities that may have shifted while they were away.”
Signposting is also helpful to make sure women know how to seek support.
She added: “It is essential to ensure that parents are aware of the available support, such as occupational health therapeutic support or mentoring programme, and they witness behaviour that shows that their employer cares about their wellbeing.
“Above all, it is critical to ask parents what they need and respect their privacy and autonomy.”