Perinatal mental health and COVID-19: Navigating a way forward.
Smith KA., Howard LM., Vigod SN., D'Agostino A., Cipriani A.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have increased pre-existing inequalities and risk factors for mental disorders in general, but perinatal mental disorders are of particular concern. They are already underdiagnosed and undertreated, and this has been magnified by the pandemic. Access to services (both psychiatric and obstetric) has been reduced, and in-person contact has been restricted because of the increased risks. Rates of perinatal anxiety and depressive symptoms have increased. In the face of these challenges, clear guidance in perinatal mental health is needed for patients and clinicians. However, a systematic search of the available resources showed only a small amount of guidance from a few countries, with a focus on the acute phase of the pandemic rather than the challenges of new variants and variable rates of infection. Telepsychiatry offers advantages during times of restricted social contact and also as an additional route for accessing a wide range of digital technologies. While there is a strong evidence base for general telepsychiatry, the particular issues in perinatal mental health need further examination. Clinicians will need expertise and training to navigate a hybrid model, flexibly combining in person and remote assessments according to risk, clinical need and individual patient preferences. There are also wider issues of care planning in the context of varying infection rates, restrictions and vaccination access in different countries. Clinicians will need to focus on prevention, treatment, risk assessment and symptom monitoring, but there will also need to be an urgent and coordinated focus on guidance and planning across all organisations involved in perinatal mental health care.