How Businesses Can Support the Mental Health of Employees During Pregnancy and Early Parenthood

New research shows that one in four women experience mental health conditions during pregnancy.

Louise Conville Cheung |Head of Content, Moment Health

This article was originally published on Mind Share Partners' "Mental Health at Work" section on Thrive Global.

New research shows that one in four women experience mental health conditions during pregnancy. So, how can employers support staff during this crucial time for their families?

Becoming a new mum was, for too long, widely perceived as a happy, warm, and glowing time. While many women do have positive, healthy pregnancies, for many this is not the case.

Supporting the latter, new research from King’s College London published earlier this year found as much as 25 percent of women experience mental health problems during pregnancy, including: depression (11%), anxiety (15%), eating disorders (2%), obsessive-compulsive disorder (2%), and PTSD (just under 1%)—as well as bipolar disorder and other disorders in fewer cases.

The impact of perinatal mental ill health extends to every part of a woman’s life, from her family to her work and career. And while companies across the globe are slowly improving upon both maternity and mental health policies for staff, there is still much work to be done. On top of that, it’s no small truth that persistent and dated social barriers make it difficult for people struggling with their emotional health to open up and ask for support.

A new page is turning where charities, corporations, individuals and new organizations are being applauded for breaking down these barriers and offering new innovations that help to address mental health care. But unfortunately, when it comes to perinatal mental health specifically, it seems not much is happening in terms of workplaces offering targeted solutions for struggling parents. Although, many companies large and small, particularly in the tech sector, have been working hard in recent years to improve maternity and paternity leave policies that better support new parents – which is a good place to start.

Take Netflix, for example. The US remains the only Western country in the world that does not mandate maternity leave conditions, neglecting national statutory entitlement to paid leave for parents. However, Netflix – with headquarters in Los Gatos California and satellite offices in three further US locations, as well as overseas – launched a policy in 2015 that allows new parents to take as much as 52 weeks fully paid leave following the birth or adoption of their child.

They also offer staff the flexibility to return to work before the year is up, and even take further time off within the 52-week period. Explaining the thinking behind the policy, Netflix chief talent officer Tawni Cranz wrote on the company blog, “Experience shows people perform better at work when they’re not worrying about home. This new policy, combined with our unlimited time off, allows employees to be supported during the changes in their lives and return to work more focused and dedicated.”

Amazon is another forward-thinker when it comes to policies that support parents and their families. In 2015, the mammoth corporation launched a parental leave program it believed would benefit any new parent under their employ, from casual warehouse workers to senior execs.

“We spent a lot of time building a parental leave policy that would be valuable for our global employee base,” wrote Amazon’s Director of Global Programs and Services, on the company blog, “ensuring that no matter where our employees work, they are able to take advantage of parental leave during a critical time for their families.”