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Many pregnant women may have depression, but few getting treatment, study finds

ANN ARBOR, MI One in five pregnant women may be experiencing symptoms of depression, but few are getting help for it, a new University of Michigan study finds.

And those with a history of depression any time before their pregnancy -- about one in every four women -- are about twice as likely as other women to show signs of depression while pregnant, the study results show.

The study of 3,472 pregnant women, conducted by researchers from the U-M Depression Center in the waiting rooms of 10 Michigan obstetrics clinics, is being published May 22 in the Journal of Women's Health.

The results reveal troubling under-diagnosis and under-treatment of depression in pregnancy. Twenty percent of the women scored high on a standard survey of depression symptoms, but of those, only 13.8 percent were receiving any mental health counseling, drugs or other treatment. Only about 24 percent of those who had had depression in the last six months were receiving treatment during pregnancy.

Growing scientific evidence suggests that hormone imbalances associated with depression can affect the fetus or put a woman at higher risk of post-partum depression. Population-based evidence has also shown that babies of depressed mothers do worse at birth, and beyond, than other infants.

"A woman's childbearing years are also her highest-risk time for depression. Doctors used to think of pregnancy as a 'honeymoon' away from depression risk, but this is turning out to be a myth," says lead author Sheila Marcus, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the U-M Medical School. "We now know that the hormones and brain chemistry involved in depression are known to be affected by changes in other hormones related to pregnancy. And we know this may affect the fetus."

Fortunately, Marcus notes, recent studies have shown that some standard depression treatments -- including some antidepressant drugs -- do not appear to increase the risk of birth
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
20-May-2003


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