February 19, 2021
2 min read
Prevalence rates of clinically relevant depression and anxiety have been “extremely high” among postnatal women during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to study results published in Journal of Psychiatric Research.
“There had been no data published examining mental health in new mothers during COVID-19 at the time of study,” Victoria Fallon, FHEA, CPsychol, of the department of psychology at the University of Liverpool in the UK, told Healio Psychiatry. “As perinatal mental health researchers, we are already aware that the postnatal period can be a time during which mothers are vulnerable to the development or worsening of mental health related concerns. The lockdown restrictions included reduced access to care and services, and limited or no social contact with family and friends. This was something we hypothesized would be associated with an increase in mental health problems for new mothers.”
Fallon and colleagues sought to evaluate women’s psychosocial experiences during the early postnatal period; pinpoint prevalence rates of clinically relevant maternal anxiety and depression; and assess the predictive capacity of the psychosocial change that occurred as a result of COVID-19 for clinically relevant maternal anxiety and depression. They recruited via convenience sampling 614 UK mothers with infants aged between birth and 12 weeks who participated in a cross-sectional survey. The survey obtained data on demographics, COVID-19 specific questions and a battery of validated psychosocial measures, such as the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory–State (STAI-S) scale to collect prevalence rates of clinically relevant depression and anxiety, respectively. The researchers’ data collection coincided with U.K. government’s initial mandated lockdown restrictions and the introduction of social distancing measures in 2020.
Results from the overall sample showed self-reported psychological and social changes linked to the introduction of social distancing measures among a significant percentage of mothers. Women who reported the presence of psychosocial change perceived these changes negatively. A total of 70 (11.4%) women reported a current clinical diagnosis of depression and 264 (43%) reported a score of 13 or higher on the EPDS, which indicated clinically relevant depression. A total of 113 (18.4%) women reported a current clinical diagnosis of anxiety and 373 (61%) reported a score of 40 or higher on the STAI-S, which indicated clinically relevant anxiety. Fallon and colleagues accounted for current clinical diagnoses of depression or anxiety, as well as demographic factors know to affect mental health, and noted only perceived psychological change that occurred because of the introduction of social distancing measures predicted unique variance in the risk for clinically relevant maternal depression (30%) and anxiety (33%).
“For policymakers and clinicians tasked with the provision and delivery of postnatal care, we echo previous calls [by Thapa and colleagues] for ‘proactive, multidisciplinary, integrated’ approaches,” the researchers wrote. “For funders and researchers, there is a need for longitudinal research to address the acute and longer-term consequences of the pandemic on maternal mental health. From there, development and evaluation of psychosocial interventions to target poor mental health outcomes at different stages of the pandemic are required. These must be developed with in-built flexibility to enhance applicability to future health crises. With consideration to our results, we recommend that during the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises, mental and physical health in postnatal populations is provided parity of esteem.”