Depression, anxiety rates increase among pregnant women, new mothers during pandemic
More pregnant women and new mothers are experiencing anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to survey results published in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health.
Researchers surveyed 520 pregnant women and 380 women who had given birth in the last year. The participants — primarily from Canada — were recruited on social media from April 14 through May 8.
The survey included a questionnaire on self-reported depression and depressive symptoms, anxiety and physical activity before and during the pandemic.
When responding to questionnaires on depressive symptoms, 15% of women had scores indicating depression before the pandemic compared with 40.7% of women during the pandemic.
The survey also identified moderate to high anxiety in 29% of respondents before the pandemic and 72% of respondents during the pandemic.
According to the results, 64% of women reported that they had reduced their physical activity levels due to isolation measures, whereas 15% reported increased physical activity and 21% did not change their physical activity.
Researchers found that women who had at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week had significantly lower depression and anxiety scores compared with those who did not.
Healio Primary Care spoke with lead author Margie H. Davenport, PhD, director of the Program for Pregnancy and Postpartum Health and associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology, sport and recreation at University of Alberta, to learn more about the study and what physicians can do to combat depression and anxiety in pregnant women and new mothers.
Q: Why was this study needed?
A: We know that the social and physical isolation measures that are critically needed to reduce the spread of the virus are affecting mental health; however, during pregnancy, the development of depression and anxiety can have detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of both mother and baby that can persist for years. Our previous work has demonstrated that exercise during and following pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk for depression and depressive symptoms, but access to safe places to walk or other types of exercise are greatly reduced. We wanted to conduct this survey to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health and physical activity of women during and following pregnancy.
Q: How might recall bias have affected the results?
A: We know that in nonpandemic times, 1 in 7 women experience depression and/or anxiety during the perinatal period. Although recall bias may have influenced the pre-pandemic results, the fact that 41% of women are experiencing depression and 72% moderate to high anxiety currently is substantially higher than we would expect.
Q: What can physicians do to address depression and anxiety in pregnant and postpartum women during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: It is critical to increase awareness of the impact of social (and physical) isolation on the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women. Speaking to patients about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as continuing to ensure access to diagnosis and treatment of these conditions is a key step in supporting women through a healthy pregnancy.
Q: Physical activity decreased among many of these women during the COVID-19 pandemic. What can PCPs recommend to these patients to help them increase physical activity during the pandemic?
A: The closures of indoor recreation centers and outdoor parks have increased some barriers to physical activity during the pandemic. However, encouraging outdoor walking or online fitness classes can be feasible options to engage in physical activity while continuing to adhere to public health recommendations for physical distancing. Extensive research supports the benefits of walking. Every minute counts!
Q: What additional research is needed to evaluate the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Additional research needed to better understand how we can support the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women who are experiencing isolation — even in nonpandemic times — is critical. Working with women to develop supports and resources that fit with their needs — online support groups, better access to diagnosis and treatment, free perinatal fitness classes — is needed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.