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Postpartum depression on the rise during the pandemic

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) –Postpartum depression is on the rise among new parents during the pandemic, according to a Harvard study. However, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders have long plagued new parents during pregnancy and the entire year after giving birth, even prior to the health crises. 

“Depression and anxiety, those can occur in one and five to seven women and even one in 10 men,” said Birdie Gunyon Meyer, RN, MA, PMH-C, and the director of Certification for Postpartum Support International.

Meyer spent 43 years as a nurse for IU Health and has seen families suffering for decades, but said the pandemic has drastically increased the issue.

“We have support groups and before the pandemic, we had four virtual support groups a week for perinatal mood disorders. We now have 22 a week. We had to add them quickly and as soon as we would add one, they would fill up. And so we just keep getting more and more people each week into our 22 groups,” said Meyer.

In the Harvard study, 6,894 women took part in the survey. About 31% reported anxiety and depression, 53% reported loneliness and 43% had PTSD related to COVID-19.

“There is isolation with having a baby without a pandemic. You feel all alone, you feel isolated, you can’t come and go as you please. But, with a pandemic – even more isolated,” said Meyer.

It’s not just moms suffering. According to Meyer, pre-pandemic an average of 21% of women and 10% of men experience some form of perinatal mood disorders.

“It can be during pregnancy or anytime in the first year postpartum and it can be depression or anxiety, or OCD with intrusive thoughts or PTSD with a traumatic birth,” said Meyer. “Not only crying but eating disturbances, sleeping disturbances typically with depression – oversleeping, overeating. Typically with anxiety, can’t fall asleep, can’t stay asleep – worry, worry, worry. No appetite, losing weight rapidly, also could be irritability and anger.”

In women, it can often look like the following symptoms: 

  • Crying
  • Eating or sleeping disturbances
  • Anxiety constant
  • Worrying Irritability
  • Lack of joy in normal activities
  • Suicidal thoughts

In men it can often look like the following symptoms: 

  • Irritability
  • Anger 
  • Avoidance 
  • Sense of losing their partner

“With dads, it looks a little different, they are irritable, angry. They go to their man cave, they hide out. They come home later and later from work. They are irritable, they are angry, they feel left out,” said Meyer.

These conditions can occur anytime in someone’s life but are amplified and ramp up during pregnancy and the postpartum period. However, experts say new parents do not have to face these feelings alone.

“You are not alone. You are not to blame and with the proper help you will get better,” said Meyer.

She said therapy, support groups and medication can make a difference.

“You might need medication,” said Meyer. “Get rid of that shame. If you need medication, you need medication.” 

People can reach out to the Indiana chapter of Postpartum Support International online. PSI also offers a 24-hour helpline at 800-944-4773. People in need can call or text “Help” to 800-944-4773 (EN) and text en Español to 971-203-7773.

“If you’re doing your basics of self-care, eating, sleeping, walking, asking for help. It gets better and with time it does get better,” said Meyer.

This is the fourth story in a series we’re calling “INside Story.” The rest of Hanna’s stories looking into the impact COVID-19 has had on pregnant women, new moms and their babies, even as the world begins to reopen will air each morning this week on News 8.