Postpartum Depression Increased During Pandemic’s First Year, Study Results Show

Larger increases were typically seen in states with fewer deaths related to COVID-19, lower unemployment among women, analysis finds.

Postpartum depression symptoms increased among women in the United States during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, results from a University of Virginia Health System study showed.

During that time, the national rates of postpartum depression increased to 6.9% from 6.5%.

States with a greater increase in postpartum depression symptoms tended to have fewer deaths from COVID-19 and lower unemployment rates among women, according to investigators from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, and Flo Health.

“Rates of postpartum depression symptoms have clearly been impacted by the pandemic,” Jennifer Payne, MD, director of the Reproductive Psychiatry Research Program at the UVA School of Medicine, said in a statement. “Nationwide, the rates of postpartum depression symptoms increased during the pandemic and continued to rise as the pandemic extended.”

To better understand the pandemic’s effects on postpartum depression, investigators analyzed more than 278,000 responses between January 2018 and March 2021 to a post-pregnancy survey on the Flow application, which helps women track their menstrual cycles, as well as their moods and physical symptoms during and after pregnancy.

The data was synced with US government data on COVID-19 cases and deaths from March 2020 to March 2021, along with unemployment data.

Investigators found that, nationally, the rates of postpartum depression symptoms steadily increased during the pandemic’s first year, reaching a high of 7.7% between December 2020 and March 2021.

Among all states and the District of Columbia, 36 showed an increase in postpartum depression symptoms across the first year of the pandemic, while 7 saw a decrease and 8 saw no change.

At the state level, states with fewer deaths per 100,000 residents from COVID-19 showed a greater increase in postpartum depression symptoms caused by a greater feeling of anxiety and hopelessness.

States with lower unemployment rates among women in 2020 also showed a greater increase in symptoms, but that was related to emotional exhaustion and no energy to take care of a child, investigators said.

The reason states that were less affected by the pandemic saw a larger increase in postpartum depression is that women in those states had less access to support systems, investigators said.

They also said that previous research showed that these support systems help protect women from developing these symptoms.

“Because postpartum depression not only has deleterious effects on the mother but also on the child, it’s important that we identify risk factors as well as protective factors.” said Payne, who received an honorarium from CMEtoGO, Karuna Therapeutics, and UptoDate. “The pandemic clearly increased the risk for postpartum depression symptoms.”

The results were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, and the study was supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Reference

Postpartum depression increased during pandemic’s first year, study finds. EurekAlert. News release. May 9, 2022. Accessed May 10, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/952084