SA working moms seek comfort in food, drugs and alcohol

22 November 2015 - 01:02 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
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Teacher Candice dos Passos, a stressed working mom, at home with her children Julian, 5, and Emily, 3.
Teacher Candice dos Passos, a stressed working mom, at home with her children Julian, 5, and Emily, 3.

Working mothers unable to cope with the demands of home and work are turning to the bottle, comfort food and drugs.

A growing number of South African women, according to a new poll by pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics, are feeling the burn from a plethora of demands on their time. Psychologists revealed this week they are seeing a growing number of mothers consuming alcohol, overeating and taking antidepressants as "quick fix" solutions.


Clinical psychologist Dr Colinda Linde said the strain of juggling multiple duties was resulting in "anger outbursts, depression, acute anxiety and health concerns" among working mothers.

"I also see comfort eating and more recently the abuse of alcohol in order to try and relax at night."

She has also noted an increase in the number of women using antidepressants to cope with their daily demands.

"Men are doing more today than their father did, but as the demands on women have increased significantly, it is often still not enough."

Jasmin Kooverjee, principal psychologist at Chris Hani Bara-gwanath Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, found that working women used "inappropriate mechanisms to cope".

"Instead of taking time out for counselling sessions, they are looking for quick fixes like alcohol and antidepressants."

Nine hundred women took part in the Pharma Dynamics survey to determine the effect of additional burdens, such as career demands, on the mental wellbeing of working mothers in the country.

The study found:

• 38% of the women polled were frequently stretched to breaking point, with many spending up to 80 hours a week on work and home responsibilities;

• 60% have to catch up regularly on work at night or weekends;

• Most respondents said they suffer from at least one health problem such as headaches (56%), chronic fatigue (47%), unhealthy weight loss or gain (47%), anxiety (45 %), insomnia (34%), proneness to colds and flu (33%) and depression (31%);

• 73% felt as if they were always rushing from one thing to the next;

• 67% said they lacked time with their children, 60% for themselves and 47% for their partners.

More than half of working moms indicated that their employers offered at least one family-friendly perk, such as flexible scheduling, but many have wish lists that include working from home some days (40%) and better part-time or half-day work opportunities (also 40%).

Durban preschool teacher Candice dos Passos said she was stressed, overwhelmed and frustrated, despite having a housekeeper and her husband on hand.


She is struggling to cope with the demands of her job - which entails overseeing 18 children - and those of being a mom to a three-year-old and a five-year-old. "I work at the school my children attend, which is a small school and all the learners are in one class. Therefore I'm with my children 24 hours a day and never get a break from them. This makes for a very tense house because we have had enough of each other. Getting anything done in the afternoons with the company of my young and demanding children is impossible and frustrating."

Despite assistance from her businessman husband and her helper, she finds being a working mom "very overwhelming and stressful".

Marketing and public relations executive Lisa Sukdev, who works 14 hours on some days and is often travelling, struggles to spend "quality time" with her 16-year-old son.

She relies on her helper who "is my greatest help. I fortunately am very organised, so I manage the day-to-day challenges. There are times when I am stressed, but I regroup and reorganise."

sub_head_start  Dr Linde's tips for working mothers sub_head_end

• A happy mother equals a happy child. As they say during pre-flight instructions, first put on your mask before attending to children, otherwise you won't be able to do either. Self-care is paramount;

• You cannot have it all, especially not at the same time. The new trend is work-life integration as opposed to balance. Blocks of time for work or self or family/home or friends, spread through the day, are advised;

• Being present where you are is good for physical and mental health, relationships and performance on tasks. Taking a mindfulness class or learning to meditate is really useful. Visit for tips; and

• Support is essential - emotional, practical, and in the form of information, companionship and esteem.

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