My mental health hit a low point due to a difficult pregnancy. Every employer should offer the kind of benefits package that pulled me through



Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, mental health coverage is a “guarantee.” But in reality, a recent study showed that 80% of people surveyed with employer sponsored health plans said they went out of network to receive mental health care, with a main reason being an inadequacy of coverage. But at what cost?

My journey with mental health was a rocky road, and it stemmed from my pregnancy. My difficult and unexpected experience of motherhood is not unique; in fact, many women (and men) will encounter mental health challenges stemming from their experiences with first-time parenthood. However, not all of them will be as fortunate as I was given the personal and professional support system I had. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, I’m hoping my story can help catalyze more companies to better meet the needs of employees dealing with a less-discussed mental health challenge: motherhood in the workplace.

My motherhood journey

One month after I found out that I was expecting, I became terribly ill. I was nauseous all the time. Terrible headaches and overall body weakness. Then, things got worse. By the next month I was completely bedridden. After I lost 25 pounds, my doctor classified me as “high risk” and delivered a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum, which refers to intractable vomiting during pregnancy and affects fewer than 200,000 women in the U.S. per year.

At this point, I was still attempting to work. I thought that the remote work environment—this was throughout 2021 and 2022—would allow me to keep up from my bed, but this approach took its toll; it was time to take a leave of absence, a decision incredibly difficult for me to take.  

I spent the remainder of my pregnancy at home, learning how to navigate this condition. First came the need for a home nurse; then medication—a lot of medication; then a 24/7 IV drip. Luckily it paid off—I delivered my beautiful baby boy, and our family breathed a collective sigh of relief. The hard part was over, or so we thought.

My issues didn’t subside. I had struggles with breastfeeding, my mental health state continued to decline, and I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and depression. I felt alone, scared, and defeated, even with the best support system around. At what’s considered an apex in people’s lives—being a first-time mother—I was truthfully at one of my lowest points.   

Mental health policy matters

I share this for two primary reasons. First, it’s a common experience that companies need to remain mindful of. Even though the condition I had is rare, the feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness are not. According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 20% of women claim to have postpartum depression, with as many as 85% saying they experience postpartum blues. While some corporate policies do offer screenings and resources for new parents to help them through these life changes, many don’t. As society continues to prioritize issues of mental health—for both women and men—it’s time to take out the pen and update your policy to reflect these changes.

Second, even when new parents return to work physically, it doesn’t mean they’re 100%. I spent 14 months after my son’s birth getting treatment, healing, and learning how to be a mother. I was back at work physically, but there were still many days that I couldn’t give my all mentally. There was a lot happening behind the scenes, and even with the best insurance coverage, ongoing treatment can burn a hole in the wallet. Some 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and the financial strain isn’t a helpful ingredient to stabilizing your employees’ mental health conditions.

Today, 1 in 4 people quit a job explicitly due to factors related to their mental health, with 1 in 5 saying that their company isn’t doing enough for their mental health.

Shortly before my maternal health rollercoaster began, I was tasked with updating our company’s maternal health care policy. I work at Manulife, a global insurer and asset manager, and I sit within our human resources team, so I’m especially in tune with the policies companies should be providing. But many reading this may not be, and it can be easy to forget that the policies companies write and manage can have a profound impact on the employees we serve. You never know when your company’s policies will impact your life—particularly when you helped craft them, as I did.

I happen to work at a company that understands the importance of mental health to their employees’ overall productivity, well-being, and success. I urge all my fellow corporate parents to work with your HR professionals to take a deeper look at their company’s benefits package and its mental health coverage; the cost to your business of sitting idly by may soon be too great.

Jennifer Young is a Global Human Resources Business Solutions Consultant at Manulife, where she streamlines HR tools and technologies that improve the employee experience. She’s now adjusting to life as a working mom.

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The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.



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