Around 30 percent of women having their first babies suffer from depression suggests a brand new study from Australia. Also, more women are depressed around the time their child reaches four years of age than at any other time before that. This contradicts the generally accepted view that post natal depression is linked to the period just after birth.
The study also suggested that many women might not be diagnosed with post natal depression despite suffering from depression because the depressed episodes didn’t last very long. Currently it is estimated that around 10 to 15 percent of women in the UK will suffer from post natal depression.
As a result of the study findings, some experts are calling for the mental health of pregnant women and new mothers in the UK to be monitored right up until a child reaches 5 years of age.
The study was carried out by researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Parkville Victoria and involved over 1,500 women from 6 different hospitals in Melbourne Australia. The women completed questionnaires when their child was 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, and then 4 years old.
One in three
Of these women, there were one in three who said they had experienced “depressive symptoms on at least one occasion from early pregnancy to four years postpartum and that the prevalence of depressive symptoms was highest at four years postpartum”.
Interestingly, the results showed that when the child was 4 years old just over 14 percent of the mothers experienced depressive symptoms and 40 percent of these women had not previously reported feeling low.
Women with only one child were also more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to women with more than one child.
According to Dr Jim Bolton, a consultant Psychiatrist in London, one in three women in the UK were likely to come depressed at some point in a four year period from giving birth.
“If a similar study was done here, I wouldn't be surprised if the results were similar. Usually the sorts of mothers who are at greater risk of depression are younger mothers who feel they can't cope and mothers living in situations of adversity or deprivation or partner violence” he said.
“These findings are about depressive symptoms, which can be very short-lived, not a formal diagnosis of illness or postnatal depression. This study isn't saying that one in three women gets that.”
‘Should be encouraged to seek help’
“The fact that one in three first-time mothers reported depressive symptoms on at least one occasion from early pregnancy to four years postpartum, coupled with the finding that the prevalence of depressive symptoms was highest at four years postpartum, provide a compelling case for rethinking current policy frameworks for maternal mental health surveillance” one of the researchers wrote in the paper.
The women the study highlighted as being most at risk were those under 24 years of age, those on a low income, those who had experienced a stressful life event in the year before the four year follow up and those who had a violent partner.
Dr Carmine Pariante from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London told the Telegraph newspaper that nurses and doctors should be asking mothers how they are coping every time they bring their child for vaccinations or any other appointments.
“Mothers should be encouraged to seek help if they need help” said Dr Pariante.
“This paper is not saying depression in the first few months after the baby is born is not important, it is. But it is also the case that women are vulnerable to depression as their children get older.
“That is due to the stressors to having a child and raising a child. The sooner we can help those women and put them on the right trajectory the better.”
The worry is that perhaps more women could be suffering from post natal depression than the current estimate of 10 to 15 percent but are slipping under the net because they are mistaking the symptoms for something that is normal as a new mother.
Given the devastation that untreated post natal depression can cause, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms and when they are not connected to the normal stresses of giving a birth and raising and child. Symptoms of PND include:
The Australian study was published in the Journal BJOG.