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New research examines anxiety in expectant mums

26 Aug 2021


Nepean Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry and the Nepean Anxiety Disorders Clinic are well-regarded nationally and internationally for their innovative research activity and many academic publications.

One member of the team, Research Psychologist Mani Viswasam, recently undertook important research into anxiety and related disorders during pregnancy for her PhD studies with the University of Sydney, Faculty of Medicine and Health (Nepean Clinical School).

The findings of her research have important clinical implications which Ms Viswasam hopes will help to inform the delivery of antenatal care for expectant mothers.

Ms Viswasam’s thesis investigated the prevalence, onset and trajectory of anxiety and related disorders during pregnancy.

Two hundred pregnant women in their first trimester were recruited from the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District for the study and at each pregnancy trimester, participants were assessed for a range of anxiety and depressive disorders.

Ms Viswasam says she was inspired to research mental health in pregnancy because of the many women who may suffer in silence from anxiety or a related disorder during their pregnancy.

“Given the growing realisation that anxiety and related disorders are associated with an array of significant adverse effects for mother and infant, I was motivated to research this area to help pregnant women better understand anxiety symptoms and also to encourage them to seek help for these conditions as early as possible,” Ms Viswasam says.

Ms Viswasam’s research revealed several findings:

  • Pre-existing mental disorders and significant recent stressors predicted high levels of anxiety during pregnancy.
  • The prevalence rates of panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder were higher in pregnant women than the lifetime prevalence of these disorders in women in the general population.
  • Major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder were the most prevalent disorders at any time during pregnancy.
  • A large proportion of women with obsessive-compulsive disorder has an onset during pregnancy.

“There’s certainly a need for early detection of high levels of anxiety and the prevention of anxiety and related disorders during pregnancy,” says Ms Viswasam.

“In addition, timely treatment of these conditions is paramount due to the risk of various adverse outcomes of untreated anxiety and related disorders and complications for both the mother and child.”

Ms Viswasam has been recommended for the award of PhD (Medicine) without corrections.