Have you ever responded to someone asking what you do with being a stay-at-home parent? Was their response less than stimulating? Well, if you’ve experienced this, you know that there is an unfortunate stigma attached to stay-at-home parents. This is still not fully understood as parental care is a full-time job and a rewarding job for those providing it. Not only is childcare expensive, but children are impressionable in their young years and benefit more from being around their nurturers.

According to the Pew Research Center analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data, an estimated 11 million parents did not work outside their home, translating to 18 percent of the population. Although the numbers have remained stable since 1989, there has been a modest increase in fathers who stay home with their children full-time. The share of dads rose from four to seven percent, while mother’s remained around 28 percent. Stay-at-home mothers are more likely to mention they care for their family than dads.

Millennial parents (21 percent) were more likely than Gen X parents (17 percent) to stay-at-home with their children. An estimated 25 percent of stay-at-home fathers have a college degree, and 29 percent percent of stay-at-home moms do as well. While many choose to take care of their children, what is the correlation between stay-at-home parents and self-medication?

Although these numbers remain relatively unchanged over the past few decades, another consistent factor is the feeling of isolation, loneliness, and loss of purpose full-time caregivers experience. The phenomenon is known as stay-at-home mom depression, although more dads are dealing with it now as well. It affects more than 25 percent of stay-at-home parents.

What Causes Stay-at-Home Parent Depression?

Before your life as a stay-at-home parent, you could have been a server, banker, student, lawyer, or teacher. Your passions and desires were recognized outside the boundaries of your home, but the moment you started maternity leave and transitioned to staying at home full-time with your child, it’s possible you felt your identity was removed and replaced by “mom or dad.” It could have led to anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, and confusion as you watch others excel around you.

In addition to these peculiar new emotions you might be experiencing, being a stay-at-home parent is exhausting. Your days are spent driving your kids to practice, packing lunches, preparing breakfast, entertaining your baby, cleaning bathrooms, folding laundry, and fulfilling obligations that never seem to end. According to the same poll released by Gallup, more than 60,000 stay-at-home moms reported feeling angrier, stressed, worried, and depressed than employed mothers. They smile less, experience decreased enjoyment, and learn less.

The Stigma Surrounding Stay-at-Home Parent Depression

Stay-at-home parents are reluctant to complain about staying home with the kids because others may view this opportunity as a gift. You might also encounter those who believe your life is stress-free or easy because your spouse pays the bills, and you can share milestones with your children. It sounds appealing in theory, but the monotonous routine will start weighing you down if you’re unable to leave the house for personal accomplishments.

Another issue we face today is the rise of social media platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Not only does it make stay-at-home parenting look easy and fun, but you may also start comparing yourself to others. You may begin feeling resentful when you’re not taking part in similar activities as your friends or other parents. It’s a challenge we try to balance, but our minds don’t always work that way.

The stigma attached to stay-at-home parenting might leave you feeling depressed or empty inside, and you might then feel guilt over your depression. Knowing you aren’t alone isn’t enough to fill this void, and some stay-at-home parents may turn to self-medication. It may be tempting to use drugs or alcohol to cope with the loneliness and fill the gap when you’re home taking care of children. Still, it can lead to a host of new problems – addiction not only can lead to losing your kids, spouse, and everything you once knew, it can be fatal if left untreated.

Stay-at-Home Parents and Self-Medication

Prescription drug abuse, especially opioids, has become an epidemic throughout the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 18 million Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the past year. While the U.S. makes up five percent of the world’s total population, we account for 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs.

You might assume that teenagers or college students are the bulk of prescription drug users, but an astonishing number of stay-at-home parents are prone to self-medication. A majority of the addictions start out innocent, but they spiral downward quickly, leading to severe problems at home. One such path is when doctors prescribe medication to ease depression or anxiety.

Parents pose the highest risk of struggling with prolonged anxiety or depression, and they experience depression at rates nearly twice the general population. It’s not unreasonable for stay-at-home parents to see their doctors and discuss these concerns, leading to a doctor prescribing anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants that might be abused.

How to Naturally Cope With Stay-at-Home Parent Depression

As a parent, you know how challenging it is to make time for self-care and address your anxiety or depression issues. You might even feel guilty, putting yourself first, but you have to remember that you are not giving your best for the child if you’re self-medicating. It’s okay to be selfish as a parent, on some occasions, if it’s not at the detriment of your child. Some ways to naturally cope with depression or anxiety you might experience include:

  1. Writing: Although not all of us are natural writers, it’s a therapeutic approach that could benefit your depression. It’s a significant step toward healing, and many stay-at-home parents share their struggles on a personal blog or social media page. Connecting with others in the same position can help you find clarity and break through your depression and find your purpose again.
  2. Connect with other stay-at-home parents: There are many support groups online, ranging from babywearing groups, online mom groups, online dad groups, and exercise clubs.
  3. Make time for naps and evenings: We understand it’s challenging to use your kids’ naptime or your evenings to clean and complete chores, but you should dedicate at least an hour or two each day to yourself. Even if it’s just watching TV or going for a walk, it’s time you can spend disconnected and think.
  4. Seek therapy or counseling: You may think that these symptoms will eventually subside. Unfortunately, they can become chronic and cause you to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. A good therapist can help stay-at-home parents experiencing two or more weeks of severe depression. In some cases, your health insurance will cover the therapy, while other community health centers offer free counselors. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America can provide you with more options.
  5. Exercise: Exercising helps release natural endorphins that boost your mood. Many yoga and fitness apps can provide you with workouts at home. If you can, put your child in a stroller and go for a walk.
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