The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on postnatal depression: analysis of three population-based national maternity surveys in England (2014–2020)

Elsevier, The Lancet Regional Health - Europe, Volume 30, July 2023
Harrison S., Quigley M.A., Fellmeth G., Stein A., Alderdice F.
Background: Few studies have evaluated postnatal depression before and during the Covid-19 pandemic using comparable data across time. We used data from three national maternity surveys in England to compare prevalence and risk factors for postnatal depression before and during the pandemic. Methods: Analysis was conducted using population-based surveys carried out in 2014 (n = 4571), 2018 (n = 4509), and 2020 (n = 4611). Weighted prevalence estimates for postnatal depression (EPDS score ≥13) were compared across surveys. Modified Poisson regression was used to estimate adjusted risk ratios (aRR) for the association between sociodemographic, pregnancy- and birth-related, and biopsychosocial factors, and postnatal depression. Findings: Prevalence of postnatal depression increased from 10.3% in 2014 to 16.0% in 2018 (difference = +5.7% (95% CI: 4.0–7.4); RR = 1.55 (95% CI: 1.36–1.77)) and to 23.9% in 2020 (difference = +7.9% (95% CI: 5.9–9.9); RR = 1.49 (95% CI: 1.34–1.66)). Having a long-term mental health problem (aRR range = 1.48–2.02), antenatal anxiety (aRR range = 1.73–2.12) and antenatal depression (aRR range = 1.44–2.24) were associated with increased risk of postnatal depression, whereas satisfaction with birth (aRR range = 0.89–0.92) and social support (aRR range = 0.73–0.78) were associated with decreased risk before and during the pandemic. Interpretation: This analysis indicates that Covid-19 had an important negative impact on postnatal women's mental health and may have accelerated an existing trend of increasing prevalence of postnatal depression. Risk factors for postnatal depression were consistent before and during the pandemic. Timely identification, intervention and follow-up are key to supporting women at risk, and it is essential that mechanisms to support women are strengthened during times of heightened risk such as the pandemic. Funding: NIHR Policy Research Programme.