The number of new mothers with depression or anxiety during the first nationwide lockdown has been described as 'worryingly high,' with many cases undiagnosed.
The figures come from a study of over 600 women with newborn to 12-week-old babies which analysed the impact of the first UK lockdown on mental wellbeing.
New mothers were asked to declare whether they had been diagnosed with depression or anxiety already, before being asked to fill out a questionnaire usually used by doctors to diagnose mental health issues.
The researchers found that 43% of new mothers met the criteria for depression and 61% for anxiety.
The usual rate of diagnosis for both issues is around 15% in new mothers, and roughly the same proportion of respondents said they had already being diagnosed with either (11% with depression and 18% for anxiety).
However, with over a third of clinically depressed or anxious mothers not reporting a diagnosis, the figures suggest that the majority of cases could be going undiagnosed.
The biggest contributing factor for the high rates was social distancing, which for new mothers meant reduced support from friends and family, and a lack of access to postnatal health services.
Under normal circumstances, the first few weeks of motherhood are associated with high rates of depression or anxiety anyway, which were "compromised even further when combined with the stresses of the pandemic," say the study authors.
"We believe our study has highlighted a maternal mental health crisis which requires urgent attention and intervention," they state, in an article published on The Conversation. "High rates of depression and anxiety during the pandemic have also been found in other developed countries, indicating that UK mothers are not alone when it comes to mental health."
While visiting and social distancing restrictions have been essential for minimising the spread of COVID-19, the effects on the mental health of new mothers have largely gone unrecognised, say the authors.
In response to their findings, the authors call on the government to increase access and maintenance of perinatal mental health care to ensure mothers going undiagnosed with depression or anxiety are getting the support they need.
"Although NHS resources and staff are under unprecedented strain, it is crucial that mental health interventions are timely and meet mothers’ needs to prevent the escalation of symptoms and prevent additional burden to the NHS.
"Interventions must be developed with flexibility to ensure they work in both this and any future health crises."