According to the results of a new study, two out of five women in Israel who gave birth during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic suffered from prenatal as well as postnatal depression. 730 women were studied in the Israeli study carried out by Ben-Gurion University researchers. The women had given birth between July 2020 and February 2021, when the country had been in the midst of its third lockdown. The researchers discovered that depression was reported by 40% of the women either before giving birth, or in the first year after giving birth.
This results of the study are adding to an expanding body of literature that highlights the effects on mental health that were caused by the pandemic, especially on children, women and the most vulnerable. The study showed that women were more likely to develop depression if they were out of work, or those who were under a great deal of stress due to the pandemic. It was further stated that there was a four times greater chance of unemployed women getting depressed. Meanwhile, those feeling the pressure from the coronavirus were three times more likely to get depressed, as opposed to those who were not very concerned about it.
The study is peer-reviewed and is part of a study conducted of 12 countries by Ben-Gurion University’s Dr. Samira Alfiomi-Ziadna. She is part of the institution’s Center for Research and Promotion of Women’s Health. It should be noted that they have only published the Israeli component of the research for now and the non-Israeli one remains. The women who were part of the study had been assessed and interviewed using the same criteria that is used by mental health professionals on a wide scale, before the birth of the baby as well as during the year-long period after it.
Alfiomi-Ziadna said that they were extremely surprised to see the high rates because before the pandemic struck, only 15% to 20% women who were giving birth had been likely to suffer from depression before and after. She said that even though lockdowns were no longer in effect, it would still take some time for the rates to go back to the levels before the pandemic. The results of the study also indicated that Arab women in the country were more susceptible to depression as opposed to Jewish women. 36% of women who reported depression were Jewish, while 58% of women were Arab.
According to Alfiomi-Ziadna, the low socio-economic status is the primary reason for the difference. She said that this had had a major impact on depression levels. She also said that because of lockdowns, the normal family and social support structures had been disrupted. The economic consequences of the coronavirus lockdowns had intensified anxiety and depression amongst women during pregnancy as well as after birth. This included women whose husbands lost their jobs, or women themselves who could not return to work. Other studies have also shown that there was an increase in people experiencing stress, depression and domestic abuse in Israel because of the pandemic.