How to support parental mental health at work

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Kayleigh Frost, Head of Clinical Support at Health Assured, looks at the importance of supporting parents’ mental health when returning to work.

Paternal Mental Health

How can becoming a parent affect employee mental health?

According to recent reports, up to one in five women develop mental health problems during pregnancy or in the first year after childbirth.

After giving birth to a child, many mothers experience a period of ill-mental health known as 'postnatal depression'. Symptoms include:

  • increased anxiety
  • low moods
  • withdrawal from contact with others

It is also widely reported that postnatal depression can affect fathers returning to work from paternity leave. In fact, charity Family Lives report that one in 14 men experience postnatal depression.

With more parents choosing to stay in full-time employment while also taking on the challenge of parenthood, the role employers can play in supporting maternal mental health in the workplace is becoming more critical. And given the challenges faced by all during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's more important than ever that people understand the risks, issues and potential solutions available.

How can I support parents returning to work?

Giving birth is a life-changing event and can have lasting effects on parents - emotionally and physically. When the time comes for them to return to work, the way in which any employer manages this period can be the difference in retaining or losing a key team member.

Here are several tips to consider when supporting parental mental health in the workplace:

Stay in touch

When a member of your team leaves for maternity/paternity leave, it's important that you schedule various 'check-in's' before they go. Reassure them that these appointments are informal and are in place to see how they are coping while being away from work.

You can use these meetings to update them on any business updates or changes to the workplace. This will help them still feel like a valued member of your team and ease any worries they may have before returning to work. 

It should also be noted that it’s likely new parents will be anxious about their baby's health, especially during a global pandemic. Use these check-ins as an opportunity to communicate clearly the COVID-19 measures you've put in place in the workplace.

Flexible working

It's common for returning parents to ask for their work patterns to be adjusted to fit their needs, such as childcare requirements, medical appointments etc. By allowing them some flexibility with their working hours, you will see happier and more dedicated employees. Options for flexible working include:

  • part-time hours
  • condensed hours
  • home working
  • term time working
  • self-rostering
  • job share
  • 9-day fortnight
  • split shifts/hours


Early intervention is vital in supporting employees living with maternal mental health problems. Educating and training your line managers to help them spot the signs of team members struggling with their emotional health will be vital in supporting your people and saving the business HR and recruitment costs.

Workplace culture

The most effective way to support parental mental health at work is to cultivate a culture that view's maternity and paternity leave as a brief interlude in an employee's career, not a hindrance.


Returning to work for new parents can be a highly stressful and emotionally draining time, and employers need to be aware of the mental health risks associated. However, if careful consideration is applied to workplace wellbeing strategies, employers will see their employees return in a sound and safe manner.

About the author

Kayleigh Frost is Head of Clinical Support at Health Assured, the UK and Ireland’s largest independent employee assistance programme provider.

See also

What is flexible working?

What are your paternity leave entitlements in the UK?

What are the benefits of an employee assistance programme (EAP)?

Blue Monday and supporting employee mental health

Image: Getty Images

Publication date: 12 May 2021

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.