Stressors and coping mechanisms among pregnant women with psychiatric disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic

BACKGROUND: Women with psychiatric disorders are vulnerable to relapse in pregnancy, and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented an additional stressor.

METHODS: Data came from a supplemental study offered to women enrolled in the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Women’s Mental Health National Pregnancy Registry for Psychiatric Medications. Registry participants were also invited to complete an email questionnaire relating to their experiences of pregnancy during the pandemic. Prepartum experiences of 230 respondents were analyzed.

RESULTS: The most common diagnoses in this group were depression (30%), anxiety disorders (29%), and bipolar affective disorder (17%). Common stressors included changes in employment, greater childcare and/or schooling responsibilities, more conflict in the household, and increased isolation. Participants reported negative impacts and/or coping mechanisms associated with the pandemic, such as sleep problems, reduced physical activity, changes in eating, and greater amounts of screen time. Positive impacts and/or coping mechanisms were also reported, including more quality time with family, more time in nature, and being more appreciative of aspects of life previously taken for granted.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an overall negative psychosocial impact on many pregnant women with preexisting psychiatric disorders. We also observed positive coping mechanisms, which could be drawn on as sources of resilience.

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