Parental leave provides long-term protection against poor mental health

Parental leave provides long-term protection against poor mental health
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Parental leave can protect against poor mental health and have long-term benefits, according to the University of Stockholm.

Researchers from the Department of Public Health Sciences at Stockholm University and the Department of Global Public Health at Karolinska Institutet have completed a systematic review examining how generous parental leave can protect against poor mental health in parents from an international perspective. 

The review has been published in The Lancet Public Health. 

Poor mental health is common in new parents

“Becoming a parent can be stressful for both parents. We tend to just think about the enormous hormonal and physical changes experienced by the mother, but we must also think the transition to parenthood is stressful for couples,” said Sol P Juárez, associate professor and senior lecturer at the Department of Public Health Sciences, Stockholm University, and lead investigator of the study. 

The researchers were keen to highlight that parent’s face challenges unrelated to child-care, such as career uncertainties and financial pressures due to reduced income.

The team believes these issues represent key factors in the development mental disorders after childbirth, which are common. It is understood that 10-20% of the mothers and up to 10% of the fathers are affected by poor mental health after the birth of a child. Therefore, the researchers wanted to systematically examine all the published scientific evidence to assess whether parental leave could help alleviate mental health symptoms among parents.  

“However, the beneficial effects are associated with more generous parental leave schemes, for example with longer duration of leave,” highlighted Amy Heshmati, doctoral candidate and the first author of the study. 

The researchers searched publications across five online databases until August 29, 2022. In total, 45 studies were included in the research.

“This is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date. We have looked for a connection between different aspects of parental leave, such as length of leave and whether leave was paid or unpaid, and their associations with mental health in both mothers and fathers. We even investigated the indirect effect of one parent taking parental leave on their partner’s mental health,” said Heshmati. 

The researchers were interested to find that the beneficial effects of parental leave were not only observed shortly after childbirth, but also continued long into later life for mothers.  

Research on fathers was inconclusive

“Less research has been done on fathers and still this research suggests that fathers have improved mental health with parental leave policies that offer adequate wage replacement or incentives, such as uptake quotas”, said Helena Honkaniemi, postdoctoral researcher and author of the review.

The review concludes that generous parental leave can help to alleviate or prevent poor mental health symptoms, especially for mothers, a finding that the researchers hope will inform policymakers in the future. 


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