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Mothers at-risk for postpartum depression: Mental health and emotion regulation throughout the postpartum period

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Although Postpartum Depression affects many women and often has comorbidity with anxiety symptoms, little is known about the evolution of depression/anxiety symptoms over time and the factors that can influence that. The associations between emotion regulation difficulties and psychopathological symptoms have been studied, however, there are scarce longitudinal studies in the postpartum period that analyse the role of these difficulties in these symptoms over time. The main goal of this study was to characterize the depression and anxiety symptoms of mothers with high risk for Postpartum Depression over the postpartum period (from 3/4 months until 9/11 months postpartum), and to understand the role of emotion regulation difficulties in the evolution of these symptoms. A sample of 156 mothers with high risk for Postpartum Depression participated in a longitudinal online survey (three different assessment moments – 3/4 months postpartum, 5/6 months postpartum and 9/11 months postpartum), containing several assessment instruments that evaluated different constructs (e.g., depressive, anxiety symptoms, emotion regulation difficulties). Our study showed a reduction of depressive symptoms from 3/4 to 5/6 months postpartum. Approximately 30% of mothers showed comorbid depressive and anxious symptoms. Emotion regulation difficulties related significantly with depressive and anxious symptoms in each assessment moment, but not configured as mediators in the relation between these symptoms. These results emphasized the importance of early intervention in mothers with high risk for Postpartum Depression, the importance to not neglect the anxious and comorbid symptoms and highlight the importance of interventions based on transdiagnostic approaches.

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The data that support the findings of this study are available upon request.

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This project was co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER), through the Portugal-2020 program (PT2020), under the Centre’s Regional Operational Program (CENTRO-01–0145-FEDER-028699), and by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology/MCTES through national funds (PIDDAC).

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A.F. conceptualized and designed the study. C.C. conducted the literature search, participated in data collection, and performed the statistical analysis under A.F.’s supervision. C.C. wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and A.F. review the manuscript. All authors have read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ana Fonseca.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Ethical approval was obtained from the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Coimbra and all procedures were performed in accordance with the ethical standards of 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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Cardoso, C., Fonseca, A. Mothers at-risk for postpartum depression: Mental health and emotion regulation throughout the postpartum period. Curr Psychol 42, 12988–13002 (2023).

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