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One in seven new moms struggle with anxiety and depression during the perinatal period, but according to a new study published today, the pandemic is exacerbating those struggles.
Experts have been concerned of the pandemic’s effect on postpartum mental health from the outset, and this new study, published in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health, confirms that their fears were valid.
The study, which surveyed 900 women (520 were pregnant and 380 had given birth in the past year), found that the likelihood of maternal depression and anxiety has substantially increased during this health crisis.
Prior to to the pandemic 29% of those women experienced moderate to high anxiety symptoms, and 15% experienced depressive symptoms.
But during the pandemic, those numbers almost tripled, with 72% saying they experienced anxiety and 41% said they experienced depression.
“The social and physical isolation measures that are critically needed to reduce the spread of the virus are taking a toll on the physical and mental health of many of us,” said Dr. Margie Davenport of the University of Alberta, Canada, who co-authored the study.
And as Ryan Van Lieshout writes in The Conversation: “adjusting to parenthood after delivery is challenging under normal circumstances, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic.”
As Lieshout outlines, Covid-19 creates unique barriers that intensify the risk factors for depression and anxiety in new moms, even more so for black moms.
“Postpartum depression is the result of a dynamic interplay between biological, psychological and social risk factors, all of which can be amplified by the current pandemic,” he explained.
“Concerns about exposure to COVID-19, combined with physical distancing recommendations, can worsen depression and decrease access to the resources, such as health care and social supports, that women typically use to build resilience and promote recovery.”
But Ann Smith, Postpartum Support International Board President argues that availability for resources and support is better than ever.
“In many ways the ability to get help has improved because of the ability to get telehealth. Many providers were not doing telehealth, or if they were it wasn’t being reimbursed by insurance. Now, from the safety of your own home, you can access resources that you wouldn’t be able to,” she said.
Yet, despite the fact that resources and support are there, it’s unclear if people are using them.
Smith noted that their hotline has seen a sharp decline in calls over the past few months.
“We were getting several 1,000 a month [before the pandemic] but now they’re down to under 1,000,” she said.
Anecdotally, there are some reports about moms having trouble accessing resources or they’re finding them to be inadequate.
For example, Karen Sleiman told CBC in April that she really struggled to find a breastfeeding class.
“I find it really frustrating [to access] support,” she said.
“[There’s] none of that in-person contact where sometimes you just need somebody to hug you and say ‘it’s OK. It’s really hard.’ And I couldn’t get that.”
And without the proper resources and support the side effects for new mothers can be harmful.
“We know that experiencing depression and anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period can have detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of both mother and baby that can persist for years,” said Davenport.
Such effects can include premature delivery, reduced mother-infant bonding, and developmental delays in infants.
“It is critical to increase awareness of the impact of social (and physical) isolation on the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women,” Davenport said.
Experts agree, as increased awareness ultimately makes diagnosis and treatment more likely, pandemic or not.
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of perinatal depression or anxiety check out Postpartum Support International’s help line at 1-800-944-4773 or their provider directory to find a clinician who specializes in maternal mental health.