Stay-at-home mom (SAHM) depression may not be a formal diagnosis, but it’s a common experience for moms who forego employment to shoulder the burdens of home management and child care.
Raising children isn’t easy. It’s a labor of love that demands time, attention, energy, and patience — even when you feel like you’ve got nothing more to give.
Due to the demands of parenting and the cost of child care, many couples opt to have one person stay at home and handle the kids, house, and daily responsibilities. While dads do take on the stay-at-home role too, this position is largely occupied by moms.
According to 2022’s The State of Moms and Dads in America report, 28% of moms stay at home full time, compared to 7% of dads.
Feeling down from time to time is normal as a SAHM. If your thoughts are persistently despairing, however, or you’re feeling you’ve lost your purpose and that nothing matters, you may be living with stay-at-home mom depression.
Stay-at-home mom depression isn’t a formal diagnosis.
It’s a term used to describe the shared experience of a depressive disorder, like major depressive disorder (MDD), among SAHMs who often face similar circumstances related to at-home parenting.
Stay-at-home mom depression symptoms
While different depressive disorders can underlie SAHM depression, they share core symptoms like persistent low mood and energy loss.
How the symptoms of depression translate into your experience as a SAHM is unique to you, however.
For example, feelings of worthlessness are a symptom of MDD and a part of the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. As a SAHM, a sense of worthlessness could emerge as feelings of inadequacy as a parent, provider, and partner.
Other symptoms of depressive disorders include:
- feeling sad, empty, or hopeless most of the day, almost every day
- loss of interest or enjoyment in almost all activities
- weight changes
- sleep disturbances
- restlessness or slowed motor functions
- extreme fatigue or energy loss nearly every day
- a sense of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- poor concentration
- suicide ideation
- mood instability
The symptoms of depression may sound like typical parenting. While it’s true that all parents can go through times of fatigue, low mood, and irritability, these episodes are passing.
When depressed feelings don’t go away and disrupt important areas of your daily function, you could be living with a depressive disorder.
Large-scale data, specifically on depression among SAHMs, is limited.
According to one of the most recent studies, which compared 200 working moms with 200 SAHMs, nonworking moms were 2.43 times more likely to live with depression compared to working moms.
The current findings uphold those noted in a 2011 study, which followed data over a 10-year span on more than 1,300 mothers. Researchers at the time also noted that working moms — even those in part-time positions — experienced fewer depressive symptoms compared to SAHMs.
Even though the data on SAHM depression is lacking, depression among women is well-studied. Women are 2–3 times more likely than men to experience depression, and being a SAHM mom can add unique challenges.
There’s no singular cause of depression, but situations of isolation, relationship inequality, and a lost sense of purpose or identity can play a role for SAHMs.
Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, a psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University, New York City, explains there’s often a sense of imbalance in the parental relationship that contributes to SHAM depression.
In other words, many working partners don’t understand why tasks at home accumulate faster than a SAHM can complete because they’re “home all day” when their partners were “busy at work.”
“Stay-at-home parents also have no ‘clock-out’ option as they are virtually always on duty,” Romanoff says.
It’s natural when you’re parenting 24/7 to lose touch with the other activities in life you enjoy. Without time away, you might feel like your identity is linked to your children or that you have no other purpose.
Dr. Elizabeth Campbell, a psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist from Spokane, Washington, adds, “Financial strain and dependence on a partner can create feelings of powerlessness and low self-esteem. The absence of external validation and recognition for their efforts may also impact self-worth.”
As a mom, taking care of yourself is sometimes the best way to take care of those around you.
Break the isolation
Campbell suggests actively seeking social interaction to combat feelings of loneliness. You can find ways to include your children, as well.
“Schedule regular outings or play dates with other moms and their children,” she says. “Engaging in meaningful conversations and connecting with others can help alleviate depressive symptoms and provide a sense of belonging.”
Make time for self-care
Self-care doesn’t have to be a time-sink. You can carve out time for yourself during the day, even when navigating responsibilities.
Self-care could mean taking 5 minutes every morning to enjoy your skin care routine. It could mean reading your favorite novel in the kitchen while dinner cooks on the stove. The 10 minutes before bed could be a time of pampering or relaxation.
Even small moments of self-care throughout the day can add up.
Rediscover your identity
Romanoff recommends working to identify as more than a mother.
She says to make an effort to still practice and live within the other aspects of your identity by having a girls’ night out, trying to freelance, or even reading about the industry you previously worked in.
Support is an important aspect of helping a SAHM living with depression. If you’re a family member wondering what you can do, Campbell and Romanoff suggest:
- regularly expressing and showing appreciation for what a SAHM does
- performing small acts of kindness, like bringing home dinner
- taking the kids to give Mom some “me” time
- focusing on empathy and understanding
- learning more about what it means to live with depression
- sharing the child care and home responsibilities when possible
- encouraging and supporting professional mental health treatment
Antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-anxiety drugs can help improve your symptoms while therapy works to discover and resolve underlying challenges.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You may be able to manage depression with therapy alone, or you may need to try several antidepressants or mood stabilizers before finding symptom relief.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common approaches in depression psychotherapy. It works by helping you recognize unhelpful thought patterns and then teaches you how to restructure them.
Stay-at-home mom depression isn’t a formal diagnosis, but it’s a real, shared experience among many moms.
The natural isolation of staying at home, accompanied by relationship imbalances, financial inequality, and a lost sense of identity, can naturally make a SAHM prone to depression.
Carving out time for self-care, engaging in social interactions, and keeping up with the things that make you, you, are ways to help safeguard your mental well-being as a SAHM.