Published: 07-03-2023 14:36 | Updated: 09-03-2023 13:02

Generous parental leave is protective against poorer mental health

Photo: Niklas Björling

Being on parental leave is protective against poorer mental health particularly among mothers, with evidence of this beneficial effect continuing in later life, according to a systematic review in The Lancet Public Health.

Researchers from the Department of Global Public Health at Karolinska Institutet and the Department of Public Health Sciences at Stockholm University have conducted a systematic review investigating the relationship between parental leave and mental health in parents from an international perspective. Parents face challenges related to child-care, career uncertainties and financial pressures due to reduced income.

“This is perhaps why mental disorders after childbirth are relatively common, it is usually said that 10 to 20 percent of the mothers and up to 10 percent of the fathers are affected. Therefore, we wanted to systematically examine all the published scientific evidence to see whether parental leave may help alleviate mental health symptoms among parents”, says Sol P Juárez.

Parental leave protects against poorer mental health

The review concludes that parental leave was protective against poorer mental health including depressive symptoms, general mental health, psychological distress, burnout and mental healthcare use, particularly for mothers.

"The beneficial effects are associated with more generous parental leave schemes, for example with longer duration of leave", says Amy Heshmati, doctoral candidate at the Department of Global Public Health and the first author of the study.

The researchers searched five online databases until August 29, 2022. A total of 45 studies were included in the study.

“This is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date. We have looked for a connection between different aspects of parental leave, such as length of leave and whether leave was paid or unpaid, and their associations with mental health in both mothers and fathers. We even investigated the indirect effect of one parent taking parental leave on their partner’s mental health,“ says Amy Heshmati.

The review demonstrates that generous parental leave may help to alleviate or prevent mental health symptoms, especially for mothers, a finding that is highly relevant from a policy perspective.

The research was funded by the Swedish Research Council.


The effect of parental leave on parents' mental health: a systematic review.
Heshmati A, Honkaniemi H, Juárez SP
Lancet Public Health 2023 Jan;8(1):e57-e75