Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Paid Family Leave May Reduce Psychological Distress of New Parents

Paid family leave policies enacted by states for new parents appear to improve mental health and decrease psychological distress of new parents, according to a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“This evidence comes at a critical time of ongoing policy debates at the state and federal levels in the U.S. when public and policymaker support for a national [paid family leave] policy is growing,” wrote Rita Hamad, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues.

In the United States, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible workers, the authors wrote. In recent years, nine states (including California and New Jersey) and Washington, D.C., have enacted paid family leave policies that provide salary support for new parents while they are on leave. (APA provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave from work after the birth or adoption or foster care placement of a child.)

To examine the effects of the paid family leave policies on parent and child mental health, Hamad and colleagues analyzed data collected between 1997 and 2016 as part of the annual National Health Interview Survey. The authors compared changes in parental psychological distress (as determined by the Kessler 6 score) and child behavioral problems (as determined by the Mental Health Indicator score) among families in California and New Jersey before and after implementation of paid family leave policies.

Exposure to paid family leave policies was associated with decreased psychological distress among parents (a 25% decrease from the baseline Kessler 6 score), the authors reported. However, Black and Hispanic parents experienced smaller improvements in psychological distress compared with White parents. In addition, the effects of exposure to paid family leave was mixed for children of different backgrounds.

Hamad and colleagues noted that the specific way that states implement and fund paid family leave policies may be critical, especially for vulnerable groups. “Future work should examine whether variations in the implementation of state policies have differential impacts on vulnerable families,” they concluded.

For related information see the Psychiatric News article “Paid Family Leave Improves Health, Mental Health for Both Mothers and Infants.”

(Image: iStock/Birdland)