This Is How Many Pregnant Women Have Depression — And Why That Stat Matters

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You’ve probably heard of postpartum depression, which occurs after a woman gives birth, but a new study has found that one in four pregnant women have mental health issues while still pregnant. This is big news because it notes just how important it is to ask pregnant women about their mood before they give birth, as pregnancy is a major life change in and of itself.

The study, which comes out of King’s College London, recruited pregnant women over the age of 16 who were attending prenatal appointments in southeast London between November 2014 and December 2016. To determine whether their patients had a mental health issue, midwives were instructed to ask them two depression-screening questions. The first question asked the patients to assess their mood: “During the past month have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?” The second question asked the patient to assess their interest levels: “During the past month have you often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?” The questions proved to be as effective as the 10-question surveys to assess mental that are normally used at the clinic. Louise Howard, the study author and professor of Women’s Mental Health at King’s College London, said in a news brief, “In clinical practice, maternity professionals need to identify whether or not a woman has any mental disorder, not only mood disorders, which until recently have been the main focus of concern.”

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Howard continued, “This study supports the NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommendation that women should be asked by a non-judgmental and supportive health professional at all contacts in pregnancy and after birth about their emotional well-being and are given the opportunity to respond to these structured questions.”

After asking these non-judgmental questions, researchers found the prevalence of mental health concerns in these patients. While over one in four women reported having a mental health issue, some disorders were more prominent than others. Overall, the prevalence was 27 percent. Out of those who demonstrated having a mental health concern while pregnant, 11 percent were depressed, 15 percent had anxiety disorders, two percent had obsessive compulsive disorder, and less than one percent were found to have bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.

The perception that mothers universally feel happy and excited for the new addition to their family can cause medical professionals to miss signs of mental health issues in their pregnant patients. (Not to mention the fact that mothers-to-be themselves often feel pressure to be excited about their pregnancy, which can have its own mental health ramifications.) Being pregnant can be stressful on the body and the mind, and all women will respond differently to being pregnant. It’s important for doctors and midwives to provide a safe, non-judgmental space where pregnant women can acknowledge their full range of emotions.

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“[Pregnancy is] a time of lots of changes,” clinical psychologist Dr. Camilla Rosan of the Mental Health Foundation told Metro. “When you experience stress when you are pregnant it leads to changes in levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.”

She continued, “Studies show these can have an impact on the development of the growing baby — it can affect their later academic achievements and cause problems with the development of emotional relationships.”

Overall, the stigma surrounding mental health has lessened in recent years, but certain populations still have a harder time receiving help. Not all women will be jubilant during their pregnancy, and that’s perfectly OK. Some women will be living with a mental health disorder during their pregnancy, and they deserve proper medical care.