Newborns vs Teens – What’s more stressful for mothers?

Data from the Medibank Better Health Index has revealed how the age of a mother’s children can impact her mental health.

At what age do children put the biggest strain on their mother’s mental health? Is it when they’re a screaming, crying, messy, sleep-disrupting and totally dependent newborn? Or is it when they’re an emotional, boundary-challenging and expensive adolescent?

Medibank’s Better Health Index, which studies approximately 1,000 Australians each week, looked at the incidences of stress, anxiety and depression amongst Australian mothers of children aged 0-15.

Stress

Their research found that mothers with children aged 12-15 are more likely to suffer from stress than mothers of children at other ages.

  • 35.5% of mothers with children aged 12-15 reported suffering from stress
  • 34.9% of mothers with children aged 6-11 reported suffering from stress
  • 32.3% of mothers with children aged 0-5 reported suffering from stress

 

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Anxiety and depression

When it came to more serious mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, mothers with children aged 12-15 again reported the highest incidences.

  • 29.3% of mothers with children aged 12-15 reported suffering from anxiety, while 22% reported suffering from depression
  • 26% of mothers with children aged 6-11 reported suffering from anxiety, while 18.4% reported suffering from depression
  • 26.3% of mothers with children aged 0-5 reported suffering from anxiety, while 17.9% reported suffering from depression

CANSTAR Q&A with Dr Kevin Cheng – Medibank Medical Director

Q: What did you make of the findings? What did they suggest?

We know that stress, and more serious mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, are very common in Australia. We also know that women experience anxiety and depression at higher rates than men. So it’s not surprising that so many mothers are reporting anxiety and depression.

The data from the Medibank Better Health Index found that mothers with children aged 12 to 15 are slightly more likely to suffer from stress than mothers with newborns, or younger children – with 35.5% of parents with children aged 12-15 reporting stress compared to 32.3% of mothers with children aged 0-5 years. The data also showed a small increase in anxiety and depression among mothers with children aged 12 to 15.  According to this data, around 22% of women with children this age reported depression, compared with around 17.9% of mums with younger children, and around 29.3% of mums with older children reported anxiety, compared to around 26.3% of mums with younger children.

Q: Why might mothers of this age group (12-15) be more susceptible to mental health issues? What factors are at play?

There are a range of reasons. During these early teenage years, children go through a lot of change — both physically and mentally. This can put pressure on the relationship between mothers and their children. Women with children this age may also be entering menopause, returning to the workforce, juggling other pressures such as financial, relational and meeting expectations, such as engaging appropriate education for their kids.

Q: How does a mother’s mental health affect their children?

A mother’s mental health can directly impact relationships in the family, particularly with their children. Stress may add to modern day challenges in raising a family, discharging work and house duties, and adequately connecting with and nurturing kids. This may result in children not being in the right mode of engagement with their mothers, and at the extreme, may suffer neglect that could impact their own physical and mental health. If a mother is suffering from a more serious mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety, it can be difficult for both the mother and child if not diagnosed and treated promptly – that’s why it’s important to seek professional help.

Q: What can stressed mothers do?

All mothers should try to take time out to look after their own mental and physical health – whether it’s spending time with their friends, going for a walk or just having time to themselves to relax. This will benefit both the mother and their children. If you think you could be suffering from depression or anxiety, or need some additional support, talk to your doctor or qualified medical professional.

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