Elevated depression and anxiety symptoms among pregnant individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic

J Affect Disord. 2020 Dec 1:277:5-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.126. Epub 2020 Aug 1.


Background: Anxiety and depression symptoms in pregnancy typically affect between 10 and 25% of pregnant individuals. Elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety are associated with increased risk of preterm birth, postpartum depression, and behavioural difficulties in children. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a unique stressor with potentially wide-ranging consequences for pregnancy and beyond.

Methods: We assessed symptoms of anxiety and depression among pregnant individuals during the current COVID-19 pandemic and determined factors that were associated with psychological distress. 1987 pregnant participants in Canada were surveyed in April 2020. The assessment included questions about COVID-19-related stress and standardized measures of depression, anxiety, pregnancy-related anxiety, and social support.

Results: We found substantially elevated anxiety and depression symptoms compared to similar pre-pandemic pregnancy cohorts, with 37% reporting clinically relevant symptoms of depression and 57% reporting clinically relevant symptoms of anxiety. Higher symptoms of depression and anxiety were associated with more concern about threats of COVID-19 to the life of the mother and baby, as well as concerns about not getting the necessary prenatal care, relationship strain, and social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher levels of perceived social support and support effectiveness, as well as more physical activity, were associated with lower psychological symptoms.

Conclusion: This study shows concerningly elevated symptoms of anxiety and depression among pregnant individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic, that may have long-term impacts on their children. Potential protective factors include increased social support and exercise, as these were associated with lower symptoms and thus may help mitigate long-term negative outcomes.

Keywords: Anxiety; COVID-19; Depression; Physical Activity; Pregnancy; Stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections*
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression, Postpartum / epidemiology
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women / psychology*
  • Prenatal Care
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Isolation
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult