Additional Weight to Bear

The impact of COVID-19 on maternal mental health.

Posted Jun 07, 2020

 Aditya Romansa/Unsplash
Source: Aditya Romansa/Unsplash

By Katie Poulin

Perinatal depression (PND) occurs during and after pregnancy and affects up to 25% of women worldwide. Although common, stigma surrounding PND continues to inhibit public awareness and discourage mothers from seeking necessary medical help. While the coronavirus pandemic has increased concern for overall mental health, a new study has shed light on why perinatal mothers are especially vulnerable.

Published in the SSRN e-library, a team of medical professionals evaluated pregnant women in 25 public hospitals throughout 10 Chinese Provinces. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was used to measure the prevalence of PND and anxiety in women, both before and after January 20, 2020, the day that the COVID-19 epidemic was officially announced in China. The results of the evaluations were then compared to determine the implications of COVID-19 awareness.

The study found the following:

  • Awareness of COVID-19 significantly increased the prevalence of perinatal depression among women (26.0% vs 29.6%, P=0.02).
  • Significantly increased the proportion of women with thoughts of self-harm.
  • PND prevalence increased along with the number of announcements of coronavirus death and newly diagnosed.
  • Factors that make women especially vulnerable to PND include insufficient physical exercise, working a full-time job, lack of financial and family support, having a lower level of education, and pregestational lower weight, or if this is their first pregnancy.

As a result of these findings, the researchers urgently recommended multiple strategies such as early mental health screening, counseling, and peer support:

“We strongly advise health providers to screen PND and provide accessible support for perinatal women. Under the circumstances of isolation, psychological hotlines and online counseling would be a safe and feasible strategy. With the limited medical resources, women who have experienced PND could be recruited as volunteers to provide peer supports as previously reported.”

The implications of ignoring these recommendations could be devastating. If left untreated, depression can hinder a mother’s ability to care for herself and her child, likely affecting the child’s development. Additionally, severe cases of PND can lead to suicide. No mother is immune to this issue and the stress associated with COVID-19 increases the likelihood of her suffering. However, there is hope, and treatments exist to combat the effects of PND. Through greater awareness and resources made available, these treatments can be made a reality for mothers in need.

Katie Poulin is a Master's student at Wheaton College (IL) studying Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership.


Wu, Y.-T., Zhang, C., Liu, H., Duan, C.-C., Li, C., Fan, J.-X., Li, H., Chen, L., Xu, H.-L., Li, X.-J., Guo, Y., Wang, Y.-P., Li, X.-F., Li, J., Wang, Y., You, Y.-P., Li, H.-M., Yang, S.-Q., Tao, X.-L., … Huang, H.-F. (2020). Perinatal Depression of Women Along with 2019 Novel Coronavirus Breakout in China (SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 3539359). Social Science Research Network.