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The impact of unpaid caregiving on women’s mental health

Written by Chloe Hall.

Around the world, many women are devoting time and energy towards caring for family members who need support – often referred to as invisible labour. While this is an important and compassionate undertaking, unpaid and unrecognised caregiving can have a negative impact on women’s mental health.

Why women acting as caregivers can result in poor mental health

The Mental Health Foundation highlights that proportionally many more women than men take responsibility for domestic arrangements. This includes being the primary caregiver for children and for elderly relatives who need support.

The OECD has found that, globally speaking, women devote up to ten times more time to voluntary care than men. In many societies the presumption is that in such a situation, the appropriate caregiver is a woman. This leads to women being made into caregivers without thought or support, and can prevent them from taking up paid work, pursuing interests, or being active members of their communities.

How can a woman acting as caregiver lead to inequality?

Unpaid caregiving inevitably means that women struggle to find flexible employment opportunities or give up paid work entirely. This in turn makes them financially dependent on a partner or family member, reinforcing gender inequality.

This means not only are more women in low paid, insecure jobs than men, and with more caring responsibilities, they are also more likely to be exposed to the rising cost of living. In the UK, more women than men are living in poverty, and this can increase stress, anxiety, and depression.

Young women and mothers continue to face difficult economic challenges during the ongoing cost of living crisis. Financial worries affect mental health, especially when there are children to look after and soaring bills to pay.

Research conducted for the House of Commons Library has highlighted that women were faced with 86% of the burden arising from government austerity measures dating from 2010. This is largely because they tend to be the main recipient of benefits which were reduced through spending cuts.

Women also took on 78% more of the caring and home educating responsibilities within families during the first Covid lockdown in 2020 which had far reaching, negative impacts for many women’s mental health, and the effects of this are still being felt. 

Girls at secondary school may need to support their mothers in a caregiving role. This can leave them with less time to study and socialise than boys. Similarly, young mothers can feel obligated to devote themselves to their children and act as the primary caregiver, so this issue can have a wide-ranging impact across women of all ages.

What is the impact on women’s mental health?

The Mental Health Foundation reports that approximately twenty percent of women living in the UK have a commonplace mental health issue, such as anxiety or depression. While there are several reasons why women develop these conditions, additional obligations such as caregiving can increase stress and prove especially challenging to their mental wellbeing.

Depending on the individual situation, caregiving can leave people feeling exhausted, drained, unfulfilled, and stressed. This can be made worse when the caregiver isn’t recognised for their work.

The role of primary caregiver can also lead to feelings of isolation, especially if it is home-based.

This year’s International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reconsider the place and roles of women in society, including their mental wellbeing at home and when acting as primary caregivers.

The impact of this issue and its associated circumstances on women’s mental health needs to be carefully considered by policy makers and service providers. The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce recommended that women be explicitly considered in all future mental health policies.


For information and help about perinatal depression, contact Pandas Foundation.

If someone you know is showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, or is displaying low self-esteem, it can help to direct them to seek advice from a GP.

However, if talking to a professional seems too challenging there are alternative places to begin. Our blog offers advice on a variety of mental health issues. Sometimes just getting some extra information can prove to be a positive first step.

Our mental health services directory, Wellbeing West London, can help you find mental health services near you.

Our Safe Space service may also be able to help. We provide an alternative to A&E for people experiencing a mental health crisis, and can give advice, support, or just listen.

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Posted on: 8th March 2023

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