New research out of the University of British Columbia suggests anxiety disorders in new moms are outpacing depression, yet health care professionals have given post-partum depression much more attention.

Lead researcher Dr. Nicole Fairbrother found nearly 16 per cent of pregnant women and 17 per cent of new mothers could be diagnosed with anxiety compared to the four per cent of pregnant women and nearly five per cent of new moms diagnosed with depression.

"We know that outside of reproduction, anxiety disorders come in as a group. They're about twice as common as are mood disorders which include depression," Fairbrother told On The Coast guest host Michelle Eliot.

"So we were kind of expecting the anxiety disorders might be about twice as common."

Fairbrother says the focus on postpartum depression is good, but more attention needs to be paid to anxiety.

"Pregnant women and postpartum women who are suffering from an anxiety disorder may not be getting the screening or assessment or treatment that they need because we aren't thinking to ask about these kinds of concerns because we're so focused on depression," she said.

Fairbrother says in her clinical work as a psychologist, she was working with a new mother who had thoughts about harming her infant.

The patient had been receiving treatment for postpartum depression for two years, but that treatment was unsuccessful because the patient actually had anxiety.

Fairbrother says once that changed, she saw results in eight weeks.

"Sometimes people have these really serious anxiety problems that if they go untreated can lead to the development of depression," she said. "If we're not asking about anxiety, we may not know."

Fairbrother says the health care system needs to improve screening for postpartum anxiety and work to improve access to treatment.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Study: focus on postpartum depression takes away from postpartum anxiety needs