Much attention has been given by the healthcare industry and medical practitioners in the treatment of postpartum depression over postpartum anxiety. This trend is facing the challenge posed by a recent study conducted by the University of British Columbia’s Clinical Psychologist and Lead Researcher, Dr. Nicole Fairbrother.
The study compared clinical data of diagnosed anxiety and depression in pregnant women and women who recently gave birth. Dr. Fairbrother’s study yielded results of 16 percent of pregnant women and 17 percent of new mothers diagnosed with anxiety while only 4 percent of pregnant women and about 5 percent of new mothers are diagnosed with depression. A previous study done by researchers from Penn State yielded similar results. About 17 percent of the respondents who are new mothers were diagnosed with anxiety while only 6 percent were diagnosed with depression. This is a clear indication of the propensity of more pregnant women and new mothers to get diagnosed with postpartum anxiety over postpartum depression.
Depression is generally characterized by lack of zest for life, disconnect, numbness and etc. while anxiety is characterized by constant worrying, restlessness, rapid heartbeat and so on. Dr. Fairbrother described in an interview how anxiety disorders could manifest in groups. She added that anxiety disorders are twice as likely to occur as mood swings. Yet, even with the results from these studies, there is still an impartiality of focus given to postpartum depression over anxiety. A pregnant woman or a new mother usually gets a screening for depression but may not have proper screening for anxiety. This leaves the need for postpartum anxiety treatment unanswered.
Many psychologists reportedly encountered dealing with new mothers experiencing episodes of restlessness, fear and extreme worrying for the child’s safety and their own ability or lack thereof as adequate mothers. Dr. Fairbrother even recalls having worked with a mother who struggled with her thoughts of harming her own child. The anxiety overwhelms the mother and causes much frustration which in turn intensifies her depression. Jonathan Abramowitz, Ph. D., University of North Carolina’s Associate Chairman of Psychology and Director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Clinic, shares the same sentiment. He refers to postpartum anxiety as the hidden disorder due to its lack of diagnosis and treatment amidst studies indicating its widespread reach.
Having the proper screening of postpartum anxiety is only half the answer. It is important to first acknowledge the dire need for anxiety treatment of pregnant women and new mothers as well as its implementation. This is only possible if the healthcare industry will give ample attention to postpartum anxiety instead of just focusing on postpartum depression.