According to a recent study published in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, although pregnancy does increase the risk for depression it is not associated with increased risk for most mental health disorders. The authors explained, “Pregnancy per se is not associated with increased risk of the most prevalent mental disorders, although the risk of major depressive disorder may be increased during the postpartum period.” According to Bridget F. Grant, Ph.D., of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women who had been pregnant or postpartum showed no increased risk of alcohol or substance abuse either. Of concern, however, was the fact that statistics reflecting treatment for psychiatric disorders among pregnant women were markedly lower in the previous year (10.5%) compared to those that were not pregnant (16.5%). Commenting about this finding the researchers said, “Low rates of maternal mental healthcare underscore the need to improve recognition and delivery of treatment for mental disorders occurring during pregnancy and the postpartum period.” The following is an excerpt of an article from Medpage Today that discusses the study:
Pregnancy and the postpartum period have been considered times of heightened risk for mental disorders. However, knowledge about psychiatric problems during pregnancy has come primarily from clinical series with no nonpregnant control group, the authors noted.
To address the data limitations, investigators examined responses to the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Of the 43,000 participants in the survey, 14,549 were women ages 18 to 50 with known pregnancy status for the previous year (including 1,524 pregnant and 994 postpartum).
Women reporting past-year pregnancy had a 12-month prevalence of any psychiatric disorder of 25.3% versus 30.1% in nonpregnant women (OR 0.75, 95% CI 0.62 to 0.90). Past-year pregnancy also was associated with a significantly lower prevalence of any substance-use disorder, including alcohol and nicotine dependence (14.6% versus 19.9% for nonpregnant women, OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.44 to 0.71).
Younger age, not being married, exposure to traumatic or stressful life events in the past 12months, pregnancy complications, and overall poor health increase the risk of mental disorders in past-year pregnant women.
Psychiatric treatment rates among pregnant women with psychiatric disorders are low.
Pastoral Action Point: When individuals do not understand the heightened risk for depression during or after pregnancy they may blame themselves or feel that their faith is failing in the event that they experience postpartum depression. Pastors and other church professionals are in a unique position to reach out to forming families. As such, providing information about the physiological changes during pregnancy may be appropriate for your church or for a family ministry within your church.