Perinatal Mental Health Findings
While exact rates of perinatal mental health conditions are not known, recent studies provide us with some information about their incidence and risk factors:
- About 70-80% of new parents experience mood swings and feelings of being emotionally and physically overwhelmed after having a baby. These symptoms, sometimes called “baby blues,” usually resolve on their own after 1-2 weeks. On the other hand, perinatal mental health disorders are usually more persistent, of higher intensity, and require treatment.
- Perinatal mental health symptoms are very common.
- Depression is considered the most common complication associated with childbirth. It affects at least 1 in 7 women during pregnancy and postpartum (Wisner et al., 2013).
- Approximately 13–21% of women are affected by anxiety during pregnancy or the postpartum period (Fairbrother et al., 2015).
- Although perinatal mental health symptoms are relatively prevalent, these conditions can be stigmatized, making it difficult for individuals to ask for help. Unfortunately, up to 50% of mothers will never seek treatment (CDC, 2008).
- Stigma may hinder a person’s recognition of the presence of perinatal mental health distress and help-seeking behavior (O’Mahen & Flynn, 2008).
- Women report that they feel ashamed that their perinatal mental health concerns and symptoms may be seen as signs of personal failure; they fear their social network will disapprove (Fonseca, Moura-Ramos, & Canavarro, 2018).
- Stigma was the most important barrier to women’s help-seeking process (Silva (2015) as cited in Fonseca, Moura-Ramos, & Canavarro, 2018).
- Pre-existing mental health conditions is a risk factor. At least 60% of women with perinatal depression have experienced a mental health condition in the past (Wisner et al., 2013).
- While perinatal mental health conditions can affect individuals of all backgrounds, individuals of low socioeconomic status and of racial-ethnic minority may have a higher likelihood of developing one of these conditions.
- Individuals of Latinx heritage exhibit a higher prevalence of perinatal mental health disorder(s) and are less likely to be identified or receive adequate and culturally competent mental health care (Lara-Cinisomo, Clark, & Wood, 2018).
- Another study found that less than half as many low-SES African American women received counseling or medication in the six months after giving birth compared to white women of low SES. The African American women also had lower rates of follow-up and continued care (Kozhimannil, 2011).
- A larger proportion of women of Native American and Alaska Native or indigenous identity experience mental health symptoms during the perinatal period relative to the general population. More research is needed to better understand the nature and extent of perinatal distress within this group (Bowen et al., 2014).
- More than 10% of fathers experience depression and anxiety during the perinatal period (O’Brien et al., 2017).
- Social support can buffer against the onset and severity of perinatal mental health conditions. Notably, these results do not differ by race/ethnicity, suggesting that social support is an important protective factor for individuals affected by depression during the perinatal period regardless of identity (Pao et al., 2019).