At different points of my life as a mother, I experience bouts of depressive symptoms. There are times when I feel empty, lonely, and unfulfilled despite the fact that life has been good to me and our family. I actually couldn’t ask for more.
I also noticed that I didn’t experience these feelings of depression during my teenage and single life. So what is really wrong with my life right now?
I tried to look inside myself for understanding and solutions for my dilemma. But I found the bigger answer when I looked outside myself and read the sharings from other mothers.
And then it all suddenly clicked and made perfect sense to me.
So in this post, I have integrated and connected my self-analysis to the bigger picture called motherhood. Below I wrote the reasons why mothers are prone to depression, may it be in a form of symptoms or a full-blown disorder. You may be able to relate to some and not to others.
Please note that depression happens to everyone regardless of one’s age, gender, and social status. But the nature and causes of depression may vary among different subgroups of people.
Mothers have experiences that are common to the role they play. The society expects them to put their children and family above their own, sometimes to the detriment of their well-being. Some of them do not have sufficient social support to help them cope in dealing with their situation.
Below are the different factors that contribute to a mother’s depression. To know the signs of major depression click here.
Exhaustion and chronic stress due to parenting, occupation, house chores, in-law relationships
When our stress is too much for us to bear, and without the social support we need, it can take a toll on our physical and emotional health, which can then lead to depressive symptoms.
Some mothers have multiple children to look out for; and some of their children may have disabilities, which makes parenting all the more difficult.
Others are worn out juggling the roles of being a responsible employee, nurturing mother, and housekeeper. Still others have toxic in-law relationships.
These stresses that mothers have to carry make them feel exhausted, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. Take for example the sharings of these mothers which I read from Mommy Pehpot’s page (names were changed),
“There are times when I really feel exhausted that I wanted to give up, but I know I couldn’t.” – Tessa
“I feel mentally and physically exhausted. Even if I am about to sleep, I still think of the things I need to do the next day. Even the thought of what to cook the next day is stressful.” – Gail
“No matter what you do, the chores are never ending. The only time I could sleep is when everyone are asleep. ” -Mel
Absence of connection from social support
Humans are created to be a part of a tribe. The need for connection is ingrained in our being. It is an emotional need that is most natural to us.
Even with the absence of stressors, when you have no one to connect with, it may lead to depressive symptoms.
Stay at home and working mothers who are disconnected from friends and other source of social support can feel a deep sense of isolation and loneliness,
“It’s very tiring. You just stay home the whole day, and when the kid is sleeping, it is so boring. Just imagine, everyday from 7am to 5:30pm all you have is your two-year old. I’m alone the whole day, I’ve nobody to talk with and share what I’m feeling. I can distract myself — cook, clean, wash the laundry — but still nothing heals that loneliness of being alone.” -Gina
“I know I have friends, family, and relative but I couldn’t reach out because I’m too exhausted to vent out… and also that feeling that nothing’s gonna happen anyway.” -Tessa
“It’s very difficult when there is only you and the young children in the house. No one to talk to, to social life, no one to help you. It’s all on you. I feel like I’m a child who is so excited to go to the mall despite the fact I’ll get inconvenient anyway because it’s hard to look over the kids. – Anne
Feelings of being misunderstood and judged
When other mothers muster some courage to seek support by unburdening their problems, they sometimes receive judgment and criticism instead of support and comfort.
Instead of getting out of their shell and receive their connection, they withdraw even more and feel more isolated.
“I feel so burdened. I have no one to share it with. I couldn’t tell it to my parents, the might take it on my husband. I couldn’t share it to my friends, because they couldn’t relate.” -Tessa
“When I shared it to my Facebook friends, instead of emphatizing with me, they judged me. I posted something about it to make me feel better, but they just said I’m just acting like a victim.” -Gail
“Others think that because I’m a stay-at-home mom I don’t do anything and that I’m not supposed to get tired. They comment about our house because I couldn’t straighten it. Well how can I do it when I have a toddler who keeps on bouncing around the house?” -Therese
Feelings of worthlessness and lack of self-fulfillment
Some mothers think that they will never amount to anything in life. That their role in life has been confined and limited at home, making them feel stuck in a rut.
This feeling of worthlessness is very salient among stay at home mothers, especially those who have strong desire to be in the workforce.
“There are times when I experience self-pity. It’s so difficult because I wanted to work, but then, how? what will happen to the kids? It feels like there is something missing.” – Gail
“One thing that is very difficult for stay at home mothers is not the physical tiredness but an acute lack of sense of fulfillment. Sometimes it makes me ask myself, “is this all I’ll ever do in my life? Wash the laundry, cook, and clean soiled buttocks?” – Lani
“It’s that feeling when I want to accomplish a lot of things and go to places, but then I would feel that all I’ll ever be and do is just this.” -Grace
Suppressed drives and instincts
Some mothers have an innate drive to create something — an art, a piece of writing ,or other forms of creativity. Other extroverted mothers have a need to socialize with several people.
Still others want to go out, explore, and see the world. These drives and instincts are influenced by our personality.
They are like forces and energy within us that compel us to action. For example, a child is compelled to play; an athlete to move or run; a writer to write. It’s as if a physical, creative or intellectual force move them to do something.
When these inner drives are consistently ignored and not expressed, the instinctive energy remained stuck in the body, which can cause agitation, restlessness, and sometimes depressive symptoms.
Chronic marital conflict
A marriage that is devoid of love and support from husband, and one that is filled with unresolved conflicts can be a source of depression among wives and mothers.
A husband is the first source of attachment and support of a wife, just like the mother is to the infant. When emotional connection is missing, this could create a void in a woman’s heart.
It can therefore leave them a profound feeling of loss and emptiness.
READ: Mommy Wants Some Me-Time
Apart from chronic stress and sense of loneliness, there are disorders that may developed that make loneliness acute.
PMS or Pre-menstrual depressive disorder (PDD)
Some mothers experience debilitating depression that happens 7-10 days before their period. This could range from your typical PMS to PDD.
Some who have PDD experiences suicidal ideation, difficulty being up and about due to unexplained fatigue, and feelings of worthlessness among others.
Discontentment in life also tend to be acute at this stage. However, these symptoms usually disappear during the first few days of period.
If this is what you’re experiencing, this is what you probably have. It would be better to consult with a professional if it has extreme negative effects on your responsibilities, well-being, and your relationships with husband and children.
This is important to address if this happens frequently or almost every month. Below are the sharings of women from Lara Parker‘s article.
“PMDD makes my life hell. It causes intense mood swings, obsessive thoughts and rumination, and even suicidal thoughts. Even extremely tiny things will cause me to obsess. I question everything and usually end up in an existential crisis. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, honestly.” — Gracie
“I began dealing with PMDD after the birth of my daughter. It started out as postpartum depression and once the pregnancy hormones changed it became a monthly battle for my life. The day before my period was the worst — I would lie on my couch crying for hours, feeling completely useless and drained. My hormones were so out of whack that I would fall into a deep hole mentally and emotionally in which I’d feel like nothing could pull me out. I even began to have suicidal ideations every single month. Luckily over the past two years I have been able to manage the emotional side of my PMDD through therapy and medication.” — Kristen
“For me, my PMDD started after I had my second baby. Every month I would feel self-loathing and question my choice to have children. I’d regret so many of my life choices and spend as much time in my bed as possible. Then my period would start and I would feel AMAZING.” — Gretchen
READ: Counseling Centers List
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
MDD is a depression that lasts for more than two weeks.
The symptoms include suicidal ideation, guilt, feeling of worthlessness, increase/decrease of weight, sleep disturbance, lost of interest to previous pleasurable activities.
Everyone can experience these symptoms to some degree. However, people who have MDD experience dysfunction and disruptions in their responsibilities and relationships.
If you feel that your depression is something that you can’t cope with and lasts longer than expected, it would be better to consult with a professional.
MDD is caused by factors such as genes and adverse life events in childhood, which is triggered by present struggles.
29 Stories of What it’s like to Live with PMDD. Lara Parker. https://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/real-stories-of-what-its-like-to-live-with-pmdd
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
Facebook Page Mommy Blogger Pehpot. Gorman, K. A., & Fritzsche, B. A. (2002).
The good‐mother stereotype: Stay at home (or wish that you did!). Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(10), 2190-2201.
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score. New York: Viking.
Heller, L., & LaPierre, A. (2012). Healing developmental trauma: How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationship. North Atlantic Books.