A new study has shown that mental health challenges faced by women during and after pregnancy may be exacerbated by COVID-19.
In the study published in Psychiatry Review, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital surveyed pregnant women and those who had recently given birth to examine their mental health status.
Findings from the survey shows increased rates of depression, generalised anxiety and Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms, which were found to be exacerbated by COVID-19-related grief and health worries, a report on news-medical.net shows.
Though childbirth is often anticipated with optimism and enthusiasm, approximately 10 to 20 per cent of pregnant individuals also experience mental health challenges during the weeks immediately before and after birth.
Depression, anxiety and trauma-related disorders can all be exacerbated by increased stress related to pregnancy and postpartum experiences.
But it is unknown how the stress from a significant health pandemic can impact these complications.
“We know the perinatal period is already a time in which women are particularly vulnerable to mental health concerns. We primarily wanted to see what factors related to the pandemic might be associated with mental health symptoms,” Cindy Liu, Corresponding Author, Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine and the Department of Psychiatry, said.
Purpose of study
The researchers launched the Perinatal Experiences and COVID-19 Effects Study (PEACE) to better understand the mental health and well-being of pregnant and postpartum individuals within the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among 1,123 of these women surveyed between May 21 and August 17, the researchers found that more than 1-in-3 (36.4 per cent) reported clinically significant levels of depression.
Before the pandemic, rates of perinatal depression (depression occurring during or after pregnancy) were generally considered to be 15-20 per cent.
Furthermore, 1-in-5 (22.7 per cent) reported clinically significant levels of generalized anxiety, and 1-in-10 (10.3 per cent) reported symptoms above the clinical threshold for PTSD.
In particular, the researchers found that approximately nine per cent of participants reported feeling a strong sense of grief, loss, or disappointment as a result of the pandemic.
This group was roughly five times more likely to experience clinically significant measures of mental health symptoms.
More respondents (18 per cent) reported being “very worried” or “extremely worried” about COVID-19-related health risks. This group was up to over four times more likely to experience clinically significant psychiatric symptoms.
The researchers recruited participants for the PEACE survey primarily via word-of-mouth, using posts on email lists and in social media groups.
They noted that as a result, the sample population was fairly homogenous: 89.9 per cent were white, 92.1 per cent were at least college educated, and 98 per cent were living with their spouse or partner. The household income for 45 per cent of the participants was over $150,000.
“People who are working from home, who have maternity leave, or who simply have the time to do a survey like this are disproportionately white and well-off,” Ms Liu said.
“That is a limitation to this work. Through a survey, we can get in-depth information very quickly, but we are missing the perspectives of various important segments of the population.”
The researchers used standardised measures for evaluating COVID-19-related health worries and experiences of grief.
“We wanted to know what is being taken away when a new mother is not able to participate in the usual rituals around birth and welcoming a new family member.
“The survey responses offer valuable insight into that and help guide what we as health care professionals can do better,” said co-author Carmina Erdei, MD, of the Department of Pediatric Newborn Medicine.
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