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Pandemic Caused Increase in Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders

Updated: May 3, 2022

2020 was a year that was hard on everyone, but moms were especially struggling. It has been widely reported in the news, but most of those articles focus on the economic and career impact for women. While those are valid concerns and very real challenges that exist, we are exploring the pandemic’s impact on a mom’s mental health and what challenges arise at different parenting stages. This week, we’re looking at expecting moms and new moms.

The Research Shows … Mom’s Are Not OK

Having a baby is stressful when all is calm in the world. Adding a pandemic to the mix makes stress levels skyrocket. According to Postpartum Support International, about 15% - 20% of women will experience significant symptoms of depression and/or anxiety while pregnant or after giving birth. Unfortunately, the pandemic has worsened these numbers.

A study out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital surveyed more than 1,100 pregnant and postpartum women between May and August of 2020. They found 36% (more than 1 in 3) had significant levels of depression, compared to the 15% - 20% pre-pandemic. The researchers also found that this group of women was four times more likely to experience clinically significant psychiatric symptoms and those with preexisting mental health diagnoses were about two to four times more likely to experience significant measures of depression, anxiety or PTSD.

Another study found similar results. A group of 900 women (520 were pregnant and 380 in the first year after delivery) took online surveys that included self-reported levels of depression/depressive symptoms and anxiety using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Survey (EPDS) and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-State). Prior to the pandemic, 15% of respondents had an EPDS score that indicated depression. During the pandemic, 40,7% had scores indicative of depression. Moderate to high anxiety scores were found in 29% of women before the pandemic and 72% of women during.

Women who already have other young children at home face even more struggles postpartum. Depending on the age range of their other children, moms could be faced with taking care of a newborn while managing remote school situations (and maybe remote jobs) on top of increased levels of depression and/or anxiety.

Impact of Untreated Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders

We hear about postpartum depression, but keep in mind that there are a variety of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders that can arise: pregnancy/postpartum depression, pregnancy/postpartum anxiety, pregnancy/postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorders and postpartum psychosis. You can learn more about each of these conditions.

While mild mood changes and low levels of anxiety are normal, it’s important to know when to seek help. Postpartum Support International gives this list of questions to consider:

  • Are you feeling sad or depressed?

  • Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?

  • Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?

  • Do you feel anxious or panicky?

  • Are you having problems with eating or sleeping?

  • Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?

  • Do you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”?

  • Do you feel like you never should have become a mother?

  • Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?

Remember, these symptoms can occur anytime during pregnancy or within one year of giving birth, so don’t think it’s “too late” if symptoms don’t appear immediately.

Untreated depression can be debilitating, but it can also have a negative impact on your child. Depression during pregnancy has been associated with increased risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, reduced mother-infant bonding, and delays in cognitive/emotional development of the infant. Many studies have also shown that exposure to depression during pregnancy or postpartum may be associated with structural changes in the child’s brain, which could increase the risk of depression in the child later in life.

Any untreated mood or anxiety disorder affects a mom’s ability to parent and need to be addressed. If you are experiencing mood or anxiety symptoms that last longer than two weeks, contact your doctor. With the proper treatment, you will feel yourself again and have an easier time coping with all of the changes and challenges life brings.

Treatment Resources:

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming your baby, don’t wait! Call 911 for emergencies. Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis, call The Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also call 211 in Connecticut to be connected to mobile crisis teams.

Taking Care of Yourself

Self-care seems like a buzzword you hear all of the time. You know you’re supposed to take care of yourself, but how exactly do you do that with a newborn (and maybe more children) during a pandemic? It’s not easy, but make time every day for yourself, even if it’s only a short time to be alone. Read a magazine, go for a walk if you (if you have someone to watch your child), get into a hobby like painting, puzzles or baking.

One thing all moms need is support, but the traditional support systems aren’t necessarily available or safe right now. Some of these groups below are offering online meetings or other resources.

If you are looking for ways to support a new mom during the pandemic, Motherly provides this great list of ideas that are truly helpful.

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