Spike in perinatal anxiety and depression

Michelle Wisbey

9/08/2023 4:23:15 PM

Poor mental health is skyrocketing amongst pregnant women, with many mothers-to-be still dismissing their symptoms.

Pregnant woman with head in hands.
Up to one in five Australian women are affected by perinatal depression or anxiety.

A study of almost 67,000 pregnant Queensland women has found around one quarter were suffering anxiety and/or depression last year – significantly more than just 10 years earlier.
The decade-long study found the rate of anxiety rose from 7.4% in 2013 to 18.4% in 2022, while cases of depression jumped from 13.6% to 16.3% over the same period.
The rise comes as the rates of mental health in Australian’s overall population also continues to rise.
The Mater Research study said many women are not seeking medical help early enough due to a ‘societal expectation on mums to be able to keep it all together’ both during and soon after pregnancy.
Responding to the research, Dr Wendy Burton, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Antenatal and Postnatal Care, told newsGP it is important to ensure pregnant women have a strong support network, outside the health system.
‘I think when it comes to mental health, the heavy lifting is actually always done in the community – it’s family, it’s friends, it’s your social networks,’ she said.
‘The first 1000 days are so critically important, if you’ve got parents who are mentally unwell, that impacts their attachment to the baby which can have lifetime implications for their family.’
According to the Black Dog Institute, around one in 10 new dads will also experience perinatal anxiety and/or depression.
Women are also especially vulnerable in the first few weeks after childbirth, which is the peak period for the onset of depression.
RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care member Magdalena Simonis told newsGP there are several key questions GPs can ask to gauge their patients’ mental health risk.
‘If you also consider the statistic that around half of all pregnancies are unplanned, such changes result in a need for rapid adjustment for which existing systems do not provide support,’ she told newsGP.
‘For Shared Care GPs such as myself, asking the question “is the pregnancy planned or a surprise?”, then asking “how do you feel about being pregnant?” and very importantly, “how are things at home?” as a routine part of the consultation, can open up the conversation.’
In 2019, The cost of perinatal depression and anxiety in Australia report found the total economic impacts of new parents suffering mental illness totalled $877 million every year.
This included health costs equalling $227 million, stemming from the ‘increased use of primary and community health services and hospital healthcare services and increased risk of certain conditions for both the parent and child’.
Dr Simonis said the study further supports the need to support GPs to have longer consultations for these complex but common issues.
‘Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are associated with increased risks of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity which impacts the mother, the baby and the family unit in numerous ways, as well as placing demands on the health system,’ she said.
Meanwhile, the report’s authors highlight the need for pregnant mothers to be taken seriously and for their symptoms to be recognised early in order to receive the best treatment.
Dr Burton said one of her biggest tips for GPs working with pregnant patients battling mental illness is to follow up so the patient knows they are not alone.
‘So, if I as a GP have concerns and the woman is seeing a midwife for her care, how do I pass that concern along? If an obstetrician has a concern, how can they alert me, the GP?’ she said.
‘It’s making sure you make the next step and make it very clear that you don’t just leave them hanging and expect them to follow up themselves.’
Dr Burton said helpful websites for GPs include the Drugs and Lactation Database, the Centre of Perinatal ExcellenceGP Psychiatry Support Line, and For When.
Log in to join the conversation.

anxiety depression mental health pregnancy

newsGP weekly poll Do you feel well equipped to recognise and support patients with eating disorders?

newsGP weekly poll Do you feel well equipped to recognise and support patients with eating disorders?



Login to comment