Under pressure: parity, pandemic, and psychological distress

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Under pressure: parity, pandemic, and psychological distress

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Motherhood is a gendered social role that uniquely shapes health and opportunity for women. Motherhood may influence women’s risk for depression, and mothers may be particularly vulnerable to disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This dissertation examined depressive symptoms and coping strategies in response to major life events, including parity and parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. This dissertation leveraged 22 years of data using the combined Project EAT, LEAP, and COVID Current Health Study datasets.Manuscript 1 assessed associations between parity and depressive symptoms by comparing women who became parous at different times to women who remained non-parous at the same time point. Results indicated that women who experienced their first live birth at younger ages experienced more depressive symptoms compared to those who remained non-parous at the same time point and those who had their first child at a later, more normative time point. Manuscript 2 described pandemic-related changes in sleep, alcohol use, and unhealthy weight control behaviors (UWCBs) among mothers, comparing measures in the year prior to the pandemic to those in the first pandemic wave. This manuscript compared the direction and magnitude of pandemic-related changes in these health behaviors based on exposure to childhood maltreatment, to assess the stress sensitization hypothesis (the theory that earlier stressors increase reactivity to later stressors). Results indicated a bimodal distribution of change across all health behaviors. Women who experienced childhood maltreatment reported less frequent and more intense alcohol use and more UWCBs during the pandemic. Manuscript 3 is a mixed-methods study describing changes in psychological distress among mothers during the pandemic in response to different types of environmental stressors (e.g., caregiving pressures, economic concerns, and COVID-19 risk). Results indicated elevated levels of psychological distress across all domains, with qualitative and quantitative data indicating concerns around job security and productivity as the primary drivers of psychological distress.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2022. Major: Epidemiology. Advisors: Susan Mason, Darin Erickson. 1 computer file (PDF); 165 pages.

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Friedman, Jessica. (2022). Under pressure: parity, pandemic, and psychological distress. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/241587.

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