Parents of twins and other multiple-birth children experience increased rates of depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, particularly during the first three months, according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice. Unmarried parents, those with low incomes, and those with premature babies reported the most severe symptoms of depression and anxiety.
And while half of the parents in the survey say they could have benefited from mental health treatment, less than ten percent received such care.
“There is a large, unmet need for mental health treatment in parents of multiples in the perinatal period, especially the early postpartum months,” write the authors Susan J. Wenze, Ph.D., of Lafayette College and Cynthia L. Battle, Ph.D., of Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
For the study, 241 parents of multiples completed survey questionnaires, in person or online. Of these, 197 were mothers and 44 were spouses/partners. Around 20 percent of the multiples were conceived through fertility treatment.
The survey shows that 48 percent of the parents said they would have been interested in some type of mental health treatment during pregnancy or the first year after their children were born. Participants reported a wide range of concerns, including symptoms of depression or anxiety, elevated stress, relationship issues, and “managing having multiples.”
Still, only around 10 percent of parents received any mental health treatment. Of those who received care, more than three-fourths were treated for depression symptoms. The treatment rate was higher (58 percent) for parents whose children were five years old or younger at the time of the survey. Overall, the time between birth and age three months was reported as the most difficult.
Although most respondents cited relatively mild symptoms, some had more severe symptoms consistent with generalized anxiety disorder (25 percent) or major depressive disorder (14 percent). These rates were higher for parents of younger multiples.
Unmarried parents, those with low incomes, and those whose babies were premature had more severe depression and anxiety symptoms. Sleep quality was poor for all participants, especially mothers, and poor sleep quality was significantly tied to more severe depression and anxiety symptoms.
Nearly two-thirds of participants said that no healthcare provider had spoken with them during pregnancy about mental health issues that might arise after their multiples were born.
Lack of time was the most commonly reported obstacle to mental health care. However, many parents were interested in both traditional and electronic (eHealth) approaches to treatment. Younger parents had especially high rates of internet/smartphone use to seek information and support regarding raising multiples.
Multiple births have increased dramatically over the years, partly due to the greater use of fertility treatments. The new study adds to previous research showing that parents of multiples experience elevated mental health symptoms.
Most parents say that they received no prenatal counseling about the mental health issues associated with multiple births.
“We recommend that healthcare providers attend carefully to parents of multiples’ mental health during pregnancy and the early postpartum periods, and proactively integrate discussion of perinatal mental health concerns into their prenatal care regimens,” write the authors.
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health