Posted on 14.5.18
This week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK, an astonishing 1 in 4 of us will have a mental health problem within our lifetime. But staggeringly over half of new mothers suffer with depression after returning from maternity leave because of workplace discrimination.
A piece of research by Gorvins Solicitors carried out last year found that 53 per cent of women link poor treatment by their bosses and colleagues to mental health issues after going back to work.
Pregnant women and new mums are identified as vulnerable to mental health issues with research from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists finding that 81 per cent have experienced at least one episode during or after their pregnancy. Of this 81 per cent, Low moods were experienced by over two thirds, anxiety by around half and depression by just over a third of these women.
Danielle Ayres, senior employment solicitor at Gorvins says “Pregnant and new mothers have a lot to deal with, even where they have supportive line managers and/or employers. Juggling work whilst pregnant, suffering severe morning sickness, or with looking after a new-born baby and everything that throws at you, is enough to cause worry, anxiety and many other psychological problems.
But then factor in colleagues who see your pregnancy or maternity leave as a burden. Or the fact that women have to think about the substantial cost of childcare if a flexible working request is declined. Little wonder the results can be catastrophic, not only to the women themselves but to their unborn and new baby too.”
Joeli Brearley, founder of campaign group Pregnant then Screwed agrees “Bullying and harassment from employers and colleagues is a serious issue for returning mums so when you are exhausted and vulnerable and desperately trying to get your career back on track, you can understand how this can take its toll on your mental health.”
According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 11 per cent of women are pushed out of their jobs following maternity leave – around 54,000 women a year – but only 0.6 per cent of these make a complaint at an employment tribunal, according to the watchdog. The survey found that almost half of women who suffered discrimination avoided taking their case to a tribunal because of the cost. However a further 14 per cent were put off by the fact there is a three month time limit on taking a case of discrimination to an employment tribunal.
“This is clearly a major issue for new mothers,” adds Danielle, herself a mother of two young boys who set up specialist advice clinics called ‘Keeping Mum’ for expectant and new mothers, offering legal advice and support to those encountering problems, “Thinking about raising a claim at a time when you`re exhausted and physically weak is unlikely to be a priority.”
The Gorvins Solicitors survey of 1,000 women, carried by OnePoll found that 57 per cent of mothers said that lack of flexible working opportunities prevented them returning to work.
Added Joeli, “the UK is the most expensive in the world (Study by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2016) and many employers are unable to see the benefits of flexible working to both employee and employer, so mothers struggle when their child is sick and some have to leave the office earlier than they used to. This doesn’t sit well in a culture that is obsessed with presentism over productivity.”