Pregnant woman

A quarter of pregnant women have mental health problems

Date: 04 January 2018

An estimated 1 in 4 women experience mental health problems during pregnancy, with depression and anxiety the most commonly reported disorders.

The new research, funded by NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research and supported by the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR King’s Clinical Research Facility, examined the prevalence of mental health problems in 545 women seen by a midwife for pregnancy care in southeast London.

The researchers found that 1 in 4 of these women had mental health problems: 15% had anxiety, 11% had depression, 2% had an eating disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and 1% had post-traumatic stress disorder. The research also found low prevalences of bipolar disorder and other disorders.

Mental illness during pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes for women and for the child, from birth through to adolescence. It is therefore vital that these disorders are diagnosed as early as possible.

The researchers tested two techniques for identifying mental health problems in pregnancy - the two-question ‘ultra-brief’ Whooley questions, which are asked by midwives, and the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, which women complete themselves.

When compared with the existing ‘gold standard’ approach to diagnosing mental health disorders in pregnancy, the two-question approach and the 10-question technique were similarly effective at identifying mental health problems in pregnant women.

Lead researcher Louise Howard, Professor of Women's Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “This study supports the NICE recommendation that women should be asked, by a non-judgemental and supportive health professional, at all contacts in pregnancy and after birth about their emotional wellbeing and are given the opportunity to respond to these structured questions. A positive identification then needs to be followed by a clinical assessment by an appropriate health practitioner to establish the clinical diagnosis and appropriate intervention.”

Professor Howard is supported by an NIHR Research Professorship, and co-author Professor Bick is supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South London. The study team acknowledges the study delivery support from the NIHR Clinical Research Network South London.

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  • Summary:
    New research funded by the NIHR shows that 1 in 4 women experience mental health problems during pregnancy, with depression and anxiety the most commonly reported disorders.
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    • Reproductive Health and Childbirth
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