New research on prenatal depression

By Julie Griffiths on 13 July 2018 Prenatal Depression Specialist Midwives

Research published today (13 July) reveals that depression in young pregnant women is higher today than in the 1990s.

Using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), the results suggest that prenatal depression is on average 51% more common among young mothers in the current generation of the ALSPAC cohort than during their mothers’ generation 25 years ago.

This finding remains after adjusting for factors that differ across generations and in analyses restricted to mother-offspring pairs. 

The authors state that given the costs associated with prenatal depression and consequences for the mother, the child, and the wider society, an increase in prevalence is important to service provision and public health regardless of whether the increase is specific to pregnancy. 

The findings highlight the need for further research to clarify the reasons behind this intergenerational trend and reduce negative effects.

RCM professional policy advisor Clare Livingstone said: ‘Clearly depression is increasing across the population as a whole and now we are seeing a corresponding rise in prenatal depression. 

‘The study alludes to the impact of chronic stress, sleep deprivation, eating habits and financial and employment stresses all contributing to depression in this generation. The RCM is also concerned that women experiencing social isolation from family and friends or living in areas where traditional communities have broken down may be more susceptible or at risk of suffering from prenatal depression.

Claire added that increasingly, women find themselves dependent on support from the very resources that have suffered cuts in recent times and due to government austerity measures vital local support services, such as parent groups, children’s centres and libraries are being inadequately funded or often shut. She says there must be more provision when it comes to antenatal classes and preparation for parenthood for both mothers and fathers.
‘The RCM has said time and time again that there is an urgent need for the government to invest more into funding services for women suffering with pregnancy-related mental health problems. Every trust with maternity services should have a specialist midwife in post to enable women who are unwell to get the very best care and support they need.
‘What is also important is timely access to psychological and therapeutic support services, investment in peer support programmes, and the reversal of cuts to core local services. Early intervention and support can go a long way in helping to prevent mild and moderate mental health issues developing into more serious problems,’ Claire said.
Access the research, published in JAMA, here.