Mental Health


Patterns of change in anxiety and depression during pregnancy predict preterm birth

Chelsea Doktorchik, Shahirose Premji, Donna Slater, Tyler Williamson, Suzanne Tough and Scott Pattenae

BACKGROUND:   To determine whether changes in anxiety and depression during pregnancy influence the risk of having a preterm birth (PTB), and whether chronic stress modifies this relationship.

METHODS:  The data source for the current study is the All Our Babies prospective cohort (AOB). Anxiety and depression were measured at 17–24 weeks and again at 32–36 weeks’ gestation using the Spielberg State Anxiety Scale and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, respectively. Chronic stress was assessed at 17–24 weeks’ gestation as a potential covariate, and was measured using the Perceived Stress Scale. Multivariable logistic regression modeling was used to assess each relationship.

RESULTS:  Women who experienced an increase in anxiety scores, (time point 32–36 weeks, compared to the earlier time point 17–24 weeks), had 2.70 times higher odds of preterm delivery, compared to those with a reduction in anxiety scores (95% CI 1.28, 5.69). Consistent low or high depression scores did not significantly influence the odds of PTB compared to a decrease in depression scores. A co-occurring increase in anxiety and depression scores was not found to increase the risk of PTB, and chronic stress did not modify any of these relationships.

CONCLUSIONS:  These findings should be validated with additional cohorts and a larger sample size. Ultimately, primary prevention could address anxiety during pregnancy.

A qualitative inquiry on pregnant women’s preferences for mental health screening

Hamideh Bayrampour, Deborah A. McNeil, Karen Benzies, Charleen Salmon, Karen Gelb and Suzanne Tough

BACKGROUND:  Approaches to screening can influence the acceptance of and comfort with mental health screening. Qualitative evidence on pregnant women’s comfort with different screening approaches and disclosure of mental health concerns is scant. The purpose of this study was to understand women’s perspectives of different mental health screening approaches and the perceived barriers to the communication and disclosure of their mental health concerns during pregnancy.

METHODS:  A qualitative descriptive study was undertaken. Fifteen women, with a singleton pregnancy, were recruited from a community maternity clinic and a mental health clinic in Calgary, Canada. Semi-structured interviews were conducted during both the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.

RESULTS:  Preferences for mental health screening approaches varied. Most women with a known mental health issue preferred a communicative approach, while women without a known mental health history who struggled with emotional problems were inclined towards less interactive approaches and reported a reluctance to share their concerns. Barriers to communicating mental health concerns included a lack of emotional literacy (i.e., not recognizing the symptoms, not understanding the emotions), fear of disclosure outcomes (i.e., fear of being judged, fear of the consequences), feeling uncomfortable to be seen vulnerable, perception about the role of prenatal care provider (internal barriers); the lack of continuity of care, depersonalized care, lack of feedback, and unfamiliarity with/uncertainty about the availability of support (structural barriers).

CONCLUSIONS:  The overlaps between some themes identified for the reasons behind a preferred screening approach and barriers reported by women to communicate mental health concerns suggest that having options may help women overcome some of the current disclosure barriers and enable them to engage in the process. Furthermore, the continuity of care, clarity around the outcomes of disclosing mental health concerns, and availability of immediate support can help women move from providing “the best answer” to providing an authentic answer.

Risk and protective factors for mental health and community cohesion after the 2013 Calgary flood

Erin Hetherington, Sheila McDonald, Muci Wu and Suzanne Tough

ABSTRACT:  To examine mental health and community cohesion in women living in Calgary after a natural disaster considering previously collected mental health data.

Data from an ongoing longitudinal cohort, the All Our Families study, were used to examine mental health and community cohesion 5 months after a major flood in Calgary, Canada. Participants who had completed a baseline questionnaire before the flood were eligible for inclusion in this study (N=923). Four multivariable logistic regression models were built to examine predictors of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and community cohesion.

Elevated anxiety before the flood was associated with 2.49 (95% CI: 1.17, 5.26) increased odds of experiencing high levels of post-traumatic stress, regardless of whether respondents lived in a flood-risk community or not. Women who experienced damage to property, or who provided help to others, were more likely to perceive an increased sense of community cohesion (adjusted ods ratio (AOR): 1.67; 95% CI: 1.09, 2.54 and AOR: 1.68; 95% CI: 1.13, 2.52, respectively).

Women with underlying mental health conditions may be more vulnerable to the psychological impacts of a natural disaster regardless of their level of exposure. Natural disasters may bring communities together, especially those who were more tangibly impacted.

Available online

Trajectories of perinatal depressive and anxiety symptoms in a community cohort

Hamideh Bayrampour, MSc, PhD; Lianne Tomfohr, PhD, RPsych; and Suzanne Tough, PhD

AIM: The evidence on trajectories of perinatal depression is mostly based on studies composed of women at high risk for poor mental health. Research on maternal anxiety trajectories is also scarce. Using a large community cohort, the All Our Babies study, in Alberta, Canada, we examined trajectories of perinatal depressive and anxiety symptoms and compared characteristics of women across trajectories.

METHODS: Anxiety and depressive symptoms were measured at the second and third trimesters and at 4 and 12 months postpartum among 1,445 women recruited between May 2008 and December 2010. The state subscale of the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory was used to measure anxiety symptoms, and depressive symptoms were measured with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Semiparametric group-based mixed modeling was performed to identify the optimal trajectory shape, number of groups, and proportion of the sample belonging to each trajectory. Model fit was evaluated using the Bayesian information criterion. Multinomial logistic regression analysis was conducted to compare characteristics across the trajectories.

RESULTS: Five distinct trajectory groups with constant and variable patterns were identified for both depressive and anxiety symptoms: minimal, mild, antepartum, postpartum, and chronic. Common risk factors of depression and anxiety across groups with elevated symptoms were history of mental health issues (odds ratios [ORs] varied from 1.83 to 7.64), history of abuse/neglect (ORs varied from 1.67 to 8.97), and low social support (ORs varied from 1.64 to 11.37). The magnitude of the influence of the psychosocial risk factors was greater in the chronic group compared to others, suggesting a dose-related relationship.

CONCLUSIONS: Heterogeneity of anxiety and depressive symptoms highlights the importance of multiple mental health assessments during the perinatal period. The patterns and intensity of postpartum depression differed between community and high-risk samples, underlining the significance of defining suitable cutoffs. Research to examine the impact of these trajectories on child outcomes is needed.

Who is distressed? A comparison of psychosocial stress in pregnancy across seven ethnicities

Alexandra M. RobinsonKaren M. Benzies, Sharon L. CairnsTak Fung and Suzanne C. Tough


BACKGROUND: Calgary, Alberta has the fourth highest immigrant population in Canada and ethnic minorities comprise 28 % of its total population. Previous studies have found correlations between minority status and poor pregnancy outcomes. One explanation for this phenomenon is that minority status increases the levels of stress experienced during pregnancy. The aim of the present study was to identify specific types of maternal psychosocial stress experienced by women of an ethnic minority (Asian, Arab, Other Asian, African, First Nations and Latin American).

METHOD: A secondary analysis of variables that may contribute to maternal psychosocial stress was conducted using data from the All Our Babies prospective pregnancy cohort (N = 3,552) where questionnaires were completed at < 24 weeks of gestation and between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation. Questionnaires included standardized measures of perceived stress, anxiety, depression, physical and emotional health, and social support. Socio-demographic data included immigration status, language proficiency in English, ethnicity, age, and socio-economic status.

RESULTS: Findings from this study indicate that women who identify with an ethnic minority were more likely to report symptoms of depression, anxiety, inadequate social support, and problems with emotional and physical health during pregnancy than women who identified with the White reference group.

CONCLUSIONS: This study has identified that women of an ethnic minority experience greater psychosocial stress in pregnancy compared to the White reference group.


 The effect of depression and anxiety during pregnancy on the risk of obstetric interventions

Hamideh Bayrampour, Charleen Salmon, Angela Vinturache and Suzanne Tough

AIM: The effect of prenatal mental health on the risk of obstetric interventions is unclear. The present study examined the associations between depressive and anxiety symptoms in the second and third trimesters and mode of delivery, epidural use and labor induction in a large community-based pregnancy cohort, in Alberta, Canada.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: Women who had singleton pregnancies, delivered in hospital, and had medical data were selected (n = 2825). Obstetric intervention data were obtained from the medical records, and depressive and anxiety symptoms were measured by the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory. Data were evaluated with multivariate multinomial and logistic regression analyses using a hierarchical modeling.

RESULTS: After accounting for factors known to increase the risk of each intervention, including demographic variables, smoking, hospital site, gestational age, previous history of cesarean delivery, prepregnancy body mass index, assisted conception, and antepartum risk score, the only mental health variable associated with obstetric interventions was depressive symptoms in the third trimester, which increased the risk of emergency cesarean delivery (adjusted odds ratio, 2.04; 95% confidence interval, 1.26-3.29). No associations were found between antenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms and other obstetric interventions.

CONCLUSION: The present findings support an association between depressive symptoms and adverse obstetric outcomes and suggest that anxiety and depression may have different effects on obstetric outcomes. Understanding the mechanism in which depression increases the risk of emergency cesarean birth needs further research.

Risk factors of transient and persistent anxiety during pregnancy

Hamideh Bayrampour, Sheila McDonald and Suzanne Tough


PURPOSE: Chronic poor mental health over the course of pregnancy contributes to greater adverse maternal and child outcomes. Identifying women with chronic depressive or anxiety symptoms can provide opportunities to reduce distress and improve pregnancy outcomes. The objective of this study was to determine risk factors of chronic antenatal depressive and anxiety symptoms using a longitudinal pregnancy cohort in Alberta, Canada.

METHODS: Women with singleton pregnancies were included (N=3021). Anxiety and depressive symptoms were measured in the second and third trimesters using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, respectively. On the basis of the timing and persistence of symptoms, the following three mutually exclusive subgroups for each anxiety and depressive symptoms were created: never symptomatic, symptomatic only in the second trimester, and symptomatic at both time points. Separate logistic regression models were used to derive risk factors for each subgroup.

FINDINGS: Women with chronic anxiety or depressive symptoms were distinguished from those with transient symptoms or no symptoms by their optimism scores, in which less optimistic pregnant women had a four-fold increased risk for developing chronic depressive or anxiety symptoms compared with more optimistic women (AOR varied from 4.30 to 4.93). Additionally, high perceived stress, low social support, history of mental health issues were common predictors of chronic anxiety and depressive symptoms in pregnancy. Partner tension was the exclusive predictor of anxiety symptoms (AOR varied from 1.94 to 2.31) and poor physical health (AOR 2.54; 95% CI 1.32-4.89), unplanned pregnancy (AOR 3.05; 95% CI 1.61-5.79), and infertility treatments (AOR 4.98; 95% CI 1.85-13.39) were unique predictors of chronic depressive symptoms.

CONCLUSIONS: Knowledge of the risk factors of chronic poor mental health during pregnancy might inform the development of effective strategies within the limited resources of health-care systems to target populations with greater needs for interventions.

Cumulative psychosocial stress, coping resources, and preterm birth.

Sheila W. McDonald, Dawn Kingston, Hamideh Bayrampour, Siobhan M. Dolan and Suzanne C. Tough


Preterm birth constitutes a significant international public health issue, with implications for child and family well-being. High levels of psychosocial stress and negative affect before and during pregnancy are contributing factors to shortened gestation and preterm birth. We developed a cumulative psychosocial stress variable and examined its association with early delivery controlling for known preterm birth risk factors and confounding environmental variables. We further examined this association among subgroups of women with different levels of coping resources. Utilizing the All Our Babies (AOB) study, an ongoing prospective pregnancy cohort study in Alberta, Canada (n = 3,021), multinomial logistic regression was adopted to examine the independent effect of cumulative psychosocial stress and preterm birth subgroups compared to term births. Stratified analyses according to categories of perceived social support and optimism were undertaken to examine differential effects among subgroups of women. Cumulative psychosocial stress was a statistically significant risk factor for late preterm birth (OR = 1.73; 95 % CI = 1.07, 2.81), but not for early preterm birth (OR = 2.44; 95 % CI = 0.95, 6.32), controlling for income, history of preterm birth, pregnancy complications, reproductive history, and smoking in pregnancy. Stratified analyses showed that cumulative psychosocial stress was a significant risk factor for preterm birth at <37 weeks gestation for women with low levels of social support (OR = 2.09; 95 % CI = 1.07, 4.07) or optimism (OR = 1.87; 95 % CI = 1.04, 3.37). Our analyses suggest that early vulnerability combined with current anxiety symptoms in pregnancy confers risk for preterm birth. Coping resources may mitigate the effect of cumulative psychosocial stress on the risk for early delivery.

Mental health outcomes of mothers who conceived using fertility treatment

Nikolett Raguz, Sheila W. McDonald, Amy Metcalfe, Candace O’Quinn and Suzanne C. Tough


OBJECTIVE: To compare the proportion of women with self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms at four months postpartum between mothers of singletons who conceived spontaneously and mothers who conceived with the aid of fertility treatment.

METHODS: The sample used for this study was drawn from The "All Our Babies Study", a community-based prospective cohort of 1654 pregnant women who received prenatal care in Calgary, Alberta. This analysis included women utilizing fertility treatment and a randomly selected 1:2 comparison group. The data was collected via three questionnaires, two of which were mailed to the participants during pregnancy and one at four months postpartum. Symptoms of depression and anxiety at four months postpartum were measured using the Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale and the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory. Secondary outcomes of parenting morale and perceived stress were also evaluated. Descriptive statistics were used to characterize the population. Chi square tests and in cases of small cell sizes, Fisher Exact Tests were used to assess differences in postpartum mental health symptomatology between groups.

RESULTS: Seventy-six participants (5.9%) conceived using a form of fertility treatment. At four months postpartum, no significant differences were observed in the proportions reporting excessive depression symptoms (2.6% vs. 5.3%, p = 0.50), anxiety (8.1% vs. 16.9%, p = 0.08) or high perceived stress scores (7.9% vs. 13.3%, p = 0.23). Women who conceived with fertility treatment were less likely to score low on parenting morale compared to women who conceived spontaneously and this was particularly evident in primiparous women (12.5% vs. 33.8%, p = 0.01). There were no group differences in proportions reporting low parenting morale in multiparous women.

CONCLUSION: This study suggests that at four months postpartum, the proportion of women who experience elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety or perceived stress do not differ between mothers who conceive using fertility treatment and those who conceive spontaneously. Parenting morale at four months postpartum is significantly lower in primiparous mothers conceiving spontaneously compared to those who conceive with fertility treatment.

A comparison between late preterm and term infants on breastfeeding and maternal mental health

Sheila W. McDonald, Karen M. Benzies, Jenna E. Gallant, Deborah A. McNeil, Siobhan M. Dolan, and Suzanne C. Tough


The objective of this study was to compare breastfeeding, postpartum mental health, and health service utilization between a group of late preterm (LP) maternal infant pairs and term counterparts. Data was drawn from a prospective community-based cohort in Calgary, Alberta. Bivariate and multivariable analyses were performed. LP infants were more likely to have had a longer median length of stay after birth (P < 0.001) and a higher re-hospitalization rate at 4-months (P < 0.001) compared to term infants. Mothers of LP infants were more likely to report immediate breastfeeding difficulties (P < 0.001) and earlier cessation of breastfeeding at 4-months postpartum (P = 0.008). Multivariable analyses revealed that LP status was an independent risk factor for excessive symptoms of maternal anxiety (OR = 2.07; 95 % CI = 1.08,3.98), but not for depression, stress, or low parenting morale. LP infants and their families are a vulnerable population with unique developmental trajectories. Further longitudinal research is required.

Influence of interpersonal violence on maternal anxiety, depression, stress and parenting morale in the early postpartum: a community based pregnancy cohort study

Lise A. Malta, Sheila W. McDonald, Kathy M. Hegadoren, Carol A. Weller, and Suzanne C. Tough

BACKGROUND: Research has shown that exposure to interpersonal violence is associated with poorer mental health outcomes. Understanding the impact of interpersonal violence on mental health in the early postpartum period has important implications for parenting, child development, and delivery of health services. The objective of the present study was to determine the impact of interpersonal violence on depression, anxiety, stress, and parenting morale in the early postpartum.

METHODS: Women participating in a community-based prospective cohort study (n = 1319) completed questionnaires prior to 25 weeks gestation, between 34-36 weeks gestation, and at 4 months postpartum. Women were asked about current and past abuse at the late pregnancy data collection time point. Postpartum depression, anxiety, stress, and parenting morale were assessed at 4 months postpartum using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, the Spielberger State Anxiety Index, the Cohen Perceived Stress Scale, and the Parenting Morale Index, respectively. The relationship between interpersonal violence and postpartum psychosocial health status was examined using Chi-square analysis (p < 0.05) and multivariable logistic regression.

RESULTS: Approximately 30% of women reported one or more experience of interpersonal violence. Sixteen percent of women reported exposure to child maltreatment, 12% reported intimate partner violence, and 12% reported other abuse. Multivariable logistic regression analysis found that a history of child maltreatment had an independent effect on depression in the postpartum, while both child maltreatment and intimate partner violence were associated with low parenting morale. Interpersonal violence did not have an independent effect on anxiety or stress in the postpartum.

CONCLUSION: The most robust relationships were seen for the influence of child maltreatment on postpartum depression and low parenting morale. By identifying women at risk for depression and low parenting morale, screening and treatment in the prenatal period could have far-reaching effects on postpartum mental health thus benefiting new mothers and their families in the long term.


Development of a prenatal psychosocial screening tool for post-partum depression and anxiety

Sheila McDonald, Jennifer Wall, Kaitlin Forbes, Dawn Kingston, Heather Kehler, Monica Vekved and Suzanne Tough


BACKGROUND: Post-partum depression (PPD) is the most common complication of pregnancy in developed countries, affecting 10-15% of new mothers. There has been a shift in thinking less in terms of PPD per se to a broader consideration of poor mental health, including anxiety after giving birth. Some risk factors for poor mental health in the post-partum period can be identified prenatally; however prenatal screening tools developed to date have had poor sensitivity and specificity. The objective of this study was to develop a screening tool that identifies women at risk of distress, operationalized by elevated symptoms of depression and anxiety in the post-partum period using information collected in the prenatal period.

METHODS: Using data from the All Our Babies Study, a prospective cohort study of pregnant women living in Calgary, Alberta (N = 1578), we developed an integer score-based prediction rule for the prevalence of PPD, as defined as scoring 10 or higher on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) at 4-months postpartum.

RESULTS: The best fit model included known risk factors for PPD: depression and stress in late pregnancy, history of abuse, and poor relationship quality with partner. Comparison of the screening tool with the EPDS in late pregnancy showed that our tool had significantly better performance for sensitivity. Further validation of our tool was seen in its utility for identifying elevated symptoms of postpartum anxiety.

CONCLUSION: This research heeds the call for further development and validation work using psychosocial factors identified prenatally for identifying poor mental health in the post-partum period.