Having feelings of chronic low energy or sadness as a single parent may feel like the norm, but there are options for support.
Depression is a mental health condition that affects the way a person navigates the world around them due to heavy feelings, like hopelessness or unexplained guilt.
Depression is extremely common, affecting around
However, there are some specific risk factors that may make single moms more susceptible to depression.
A note on gendered language
Depression as a single parent can occur for anyone, regardless of gender identity. For the purposes of this article, we use the word “mom” based on the language within the data researched and the personal experiences of single mothers, as well as to highlight some of the external factors that commonly affect the mental health of maternal figures.
Depression affecting single mothers is sometimes called “single mom depression.” But single mom depression is not a special diagnosis separate from other forms of depression.
Rather, this term speaks to the ways single parents may be at risk of developing depression.
Single mom depression should not be confused with “single mom syndrome,“ a negative term connected to the idea that children without father figures in the home are less likely to succeed and that the mothers are typically overbearing.
Common symptoms of depression in single mothers can include:
- low energy
- trouble concentrating
- persistent feelings of loneliness or hopelessness
- loss of interest in socializing
- feelings of guilt
- impacted eating habits
- thoughts of death or suicide
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone and resources are available to help you. If you need to talk with someone right away, you can:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
Not in the United States? You can find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
Depression in single moms may also impact children. Depending on the severity, frequency, and how the condition affects a parent’s everyday functioning, mental health conditions in parents are considered an adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) score factor.
ACEs scores can
People with high ACEs scores are more likely to have negatively impacted sleep cycles, as well as
- behavioral issues
- academic delays
- trouble communicating their needs in social settings
Any symptoms of depression can occur for single moms with depression. However, the severity and frequency of symptoms might be intensified by individual circumstances.
Complicated co-parenting situations
Continued conflict or legal divorce processes with an ex-partner or spouse can be tough for everyone involved, including kids.
With co-parenting, many moms help facilitate a relationship between children and the other parent, which may mean navigating a potentially complex and tense relationship with an ex.
Regularly seeing and communicating with an ex — especially after a rough breakup — might be difficult and may ultimately lead to some uncomfortable feelings that can exacerbate depression.
Boundaries can aid in easing any complicated or strained co-parenting arrangements. Setting boundaries might look like:
- making a written parenting plan
- using mediators to help negotiate disagreements in parenting
- keeping communication business-like and focused on your children
- arranging drop-offs and pickups at a relative’s home, a public place, or even your local police department in cases of abuse or past violence
- following the direction and counsel of court orders and arrangements, especially in the case of past abuse and trauma
Lack of support
Some say it “takes a village“ to raise a child, but the reality is that many parents lack that village.
Households with two parents often benefit from having additional hands around, so a single parent having to lift the load completely alone can feel overwhelming. And sometimes, there aren’t any other options.
But if you do have safe and trustworthy adults in your life who are interested in lending you and your kids support, consider letting them help. Under what circumstances is completely up to you, but you don’t have to do it all alone.
Emotional support from loved ones can be just as important, even if they aren’t in a position to be hands-on with your kids.
- foster relationships
- deepen connections
- build emotional support
Systemic issues, like food insecurity and lack of resources, can be risk factors for depression and mental health conditions in general, especially for folks who are:
- People of Color
- queer or part of the LGBTQ+ community
- parents of children with disabilities
And because these issues run deep, there isn’t always an easy fix.
While making frugal shopping decisions and budgeting are generally positive suggestions, centering the conversation around what someone can do to alter their situation can place the onus on them, rather than acknowledging the totality of the situation.
If you are looking for support, there are government options like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). You may also consider searching for need-based local food initiatives or coalitions, such as Feeding America or World Central Kitchen.
While a 2021 study demonstrates that economic issues like housing insecurity can impact sleep, many parents would likely agree that parenting children can also cut into your beauty rest on a regular basis.
For single parents, taking on all the errands and housework while working may not leave a lot of room for getting adequate sleep.
Sleep is known to impact depression (and vice versa) and can be an important factor in mental wellness.
As a single parent, not every recommended practice for better sleep hygiene may be realistic for your schedule. But consider which areas you could potentially work on to give yourself the best opportunity to rest, like:
- shutting off TVs and phones right before bed
- resisting the urge for “revenge bedtime procrastination“
- using calming aromatherapy, such as scented sleep sprays or essential oil diffusers
- taking a warm shower or bath before bed
- limiting caffeine closer to your bedtime
- creating and sticking to a sleep schedule
Other risk factors
In addition to these potential influences, there are other risk factors for depression as a single parent.
Antiviolence experts and clinicians have experienced and
Having lived through traumatic situations can increase your likelihood of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, in addition to depression.
Stigma or judgment from others
Handling a household solo is tough on its own, and that’s without the added stigma single moms often face.
Because of the importance placed on the idea of a nuclear family — a couple and their children serving as a collective unit — moms who are raising their kids on their own may have to navigate assumptions or ill feelings from other parents or friends.
Not all single parents have depression, and those who do have it love their kids just as much as any other parent.
Everyone’s circumstances and lived experiences can be very different. Some parents don’t always have immediate access to the resources that can make parenting and running a household easier.
But if you feel that your depression may be connected to — or exacerbated by — some of the challenges that can come with single parenting, know that you are not alone. Learning to cope is possible and can help you lead a balanced, fulfilling life.
Centering self-care in your life doesn’t need to look like spending money or taking a trip. Self-care can be about:
- setting boundaries
- taking care of your body
- fitting quiet time into your schedule
Asking for and accepting help can make a difference for single moms as well as for their kids.
If you have loved ones who are safe, trustworthy adults, consider asking them for help. As the parent, you can decide what this will look like for your family.
Even if your friends and family can’t help with your children, consider leaning on friends and family for emotional support through something as simple as a weekly phone call.
Making new friends can also be beneficial for single parents. You may want to try apps like Bumble BFF and Peanut for meeting new friends, or Meetup to connect with groups of folks with similar interests.
Connecting with a counselor or therapist can help you prioritize your mental wellness. A mental health professional can aid you in working through tough emotions, as well as help you develop tools to manage depression and stress.
Virtual options can make carving out time for therapy easier on a busy mom’s schedule. You can also check out Psych Central’s guide to seeking mental health support as a first step.
Tapping into support groups can be a great way to gain support and feel less isolated. You may want to consider groups specifically tailored to single moms, like Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere (ESME), or support groups for depression.
Parenting can be challenging, especially when you are doing it on your own. These challenges coupled with the prevalence of depression might make “single mom depression” common, but it’s also manageable.
It’s important to remember that taking care of you and prioritizing your mental wellness is also taking care of your kids.
You don’t have to do things alone, even if that means connecting with others online for emotional support or checking in with a virtual therapist.