Women can suffer from postnatal anxiety or stress independently of postnatal depression. A study published today in the open access journal BMC Psychiatry concludes that symptoms of anxiety and stress should be assessed in women in the early postnatal period. A scale that measures anxiety and stress independently of depression enabled researchers to detect 61 women who had symptoms of depression, and a further 33 women who had symptoms of anxiety and stress, without depression. There is growing awareness of postnatal depression, however, this study suggests that health practitioners should also be on the lookout for symptoms of anxiety and stress as signs of distress in postnatal women.
The study conducted by Renee Miller and Julie Pallant from Swinburne University of Technology and Lisa Negri from RMIT University, assessed the levels of depression, anxiety and stress in 325 first-time mothers who were 6 weeks to 6 months postnatal. Miller et al. analyzed the results of the widely used Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) along with an additional measure, the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scales (DASS). They found that 33 women (10%) had symptoms of anxiety and stress independent of depression. These women would not have been detected if they had been assessed for depression alone.
According to Miller et al., the focus on depression as the only indicator for emotional distress in postnatal women means that women who have symptoms of anxiety and stress are at risk of not receiving help. Miller et al. conclude that it is important for health practitioners to assess new mothers for broader signs of distress than that of depression alone.