Today in the United States, you are more likely to see families and mothers experiencing homelessness than in years past. Family homelessness is considered the fastest-growing subpopulation within those experiencing homelessness. It is estimated that 40 - 50% of those experiencing homelessness in the United States are families. Specifically, these families tend to be single mothers with one or two young children. A potential reason for single mothers becoming more vulnerable to homelessness? Postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a form of depression that emerges within mothers in their postpartum period. The postpartum period refers to the time following childbirth, commonly considered up to 6 months post-delivery. It is essential to understand that the phenomenon of baby blues, lasting up to a week or two post-delivery, is not synonymous with postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is more prolonged and more severe.
Symptoms of postpartum depression are wide-reaching. Mothers with postpartum depression can experience depressive mood swings, feelings of severe inadequacy; withdrawal from loved ones; and suicidal ideations, to name only a few. All of these factors pose considerable risks to new mothers and their newborns. Unfortunately, while some mothers have the fortune of seeking professional help for postpartum depression, others do not have this fortune.
A recent study conducted by the American Public Journal of Health revealed that postpartum depression is a risk factor for increased chances of housing insecurity or homelessness. The mothers who experienced depression were significantly more likely than mothers who did not experience depression to become homeless, with a 6% chance to a 2% chance, respectively. Additionally, mothers experiencing postpartum depression were 14% at risk for homelessness, and mothers who did not were at 9%. While this study does not suggest postpartum depression as a cause, it does demonstrate that postpartum depression is a legitimate risk factor for homelessness.
Mental health and homelessness are inextricably tied to one another, creating a vicious perpetuating cycle. Mental health issues can often play a role in job insecurity, which significantly impacts housing insecurity. Moreover, the stress and trauma of homelessness can be detrimental to mental health. So, as we look to better support those experiencing homelessness and mental illness, we must not forget to look towards preemptive help. Like postpartum depression care for new mothers, mental health support can help individuals cross the threshold into homelessness.