Center for the Advancement of Health
Monday, March 11, 2002
More than half of pregnant blacks and Hispanics may be depressed, according to a new study that also suggests that stressful life events and poverty may be contribute to the relatively high rates among these women. Previous studies, which have shown that depression in pregnancy is related to stress and social support factors, have been conducted primarily in educated white women. "This study focuses on depression during pregnancy among two groups of minority women in urban poverty, African-Americans and Hispanics. Both groups are overrepresented in urban primary care settings that serve families living in poverty," says lead researcher Luis H. Zayas, Ph.D., of the Center for Hispanic Mental Health Research at Fordham University. The study, published in the current issue of Women's Health Issues, included interviews with 148 pregnant women, 43 percent of them African-American and 57 percent Hispanic, mainly from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The women were asked about depression symptoms, life stresses and social support. The researchers found that 51 percent of the women met their criteria for depression, which were adjusted to take into account some symptoms of depression that are common in pregnancy, such as fatigue and changes in sleep patterns. Levels of depression were similar between the African-American and Hispanic women. Zayas says depression not only affects the pregnant woman, but also her ability to care for a newborn. "Depression [during pregnancy] poses especially serious problems because it directly affects parenting behavior and indirectly affects the offspring." He cites research showing that the children of depressed mothers are more likely to have signs of depression as well as chemical and hormonal abnormalities commonly associated with psychological disorders. The researchers also found that lack of support, both in terms of help and number of people in a woman's network of friends and family, as well as negative life events, such as loss of a loved one, predicted depression. Overall, the study participants had more symptoms of depression, fewer sources of social support and more loss than groups previously studied, Zayas says. "Our findings highlight the need for physicians to be alert not only to prenatal depression in their patients, but to negative events and losses of supportive persons in the lives of pregnant women, especially those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged minorities," the researchers say. The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.