Maternal depression significantly higher in low- and middle-income countries

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Mothers in low- and middle-income countries experience high rates of depression during pregnancy and following the birth of their babies, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that one in four women experienced antepartum (before birth) depression and one in five experienced postpartum depression—rates significantly higher than in high-income countries.

The study, a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous studies focused on perinatal (antepartum and postpartum) depression, will be published online Sept. 17, 2016 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“Despite its enormous burden, maternal depression in low- and middle-income countries remains underrecognized and undertreated,” said first author Bizu Gelaye, a research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School. “We hope that our findings will help set the stage for subsequent research on maternal depression aimed at accelerating investments in mental health services for mothers during pregnancy and after childbirth.”

Although there is a well-established body of evidence around perinatal (during pregnancy and the first year after birth) depression in high-income countries—where rates are 7 percent to 15 percent antepartum and about 10 percent postpartum—few studies have addressed its prevalence, risk factors, and effect on child health outcomes, in low- and middle-income countries.

In the review and meta-analysis of results from 97 previous studies, the researchers identified several risk factors that increase susceptibility to perinatal depression, including intimate partner violence, mothers’ prior exposure to abuse as a child, maternal low educational attainment and socioeconomic status, and little social support.