Pandemic shining a light on need for better postpartum mental health care

The number of people suffering from mental health conditions has skyrocketed during the pandemic, but evidence suggests that pregnant and recently pregnant people have been hit particularly hard. An April 2021 study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, for example, found higher levels of PTSD, depression, and anxiety in pregnant and postpartum women than in the general population.

“Could your baby get COVID? Could I give COVID to the baby? Is breastfeeding safe? All that is just adding to any anxieties women might have, especially if it’s their first kid,” Karestan Koenen, a professor of psychiatric epidemiology who co-authored the study, said in a December 16, 2021 New York magazine article.

She noted that life disruptions and financial stressors can increase the risk of developing perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD)—which includes a range of symptoms such as fits of crying, numbness, and sleeplessness. Because these symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from those caused by normal levels of stress related to a new baby, the burden falls on new parents to advocate for their own wellbeing.

Koenen wants to see mental health become part of routine postpartum care. Along with Archana Basu, another study co-author and a research scientist at Harvard Chan School, she is launching a pilot program at Massachusetts General Hospital that will incorporate maternal mental health screenings into pediatric appointments.

Read the New York magazine story: We’re Living Through a Maternal Mental Health Crisis