Study suggests mental health screening should be offered to all pregnant women

Monday 14 August 2017

New research suggests that comprehensive mental health screening should be offered to women in pregnancy who report anxiety, altered quality of life and depressive symptoms.

Mater Research Institute-University of Queensland (MRI-UQ) researcher and lead author Professor Vicki Clifton said the study suggests anxiety is an independent risk factor in pregnancy and should be assessed and treated as part of routine care.

“Given the complex interactions between anxiety, quality of life, depressive symptoms, and physical health, our study highlights the importance of comprehensive assessments of mental health and subjective wellbeing in obstetric practice,” Prof Clifton said.

“These assessments should specifically address anxiety and Health related Quality of Life (HRQoL), and specific bio-psycho-social treatments should be offered to women who are reporting difficulties in these areas.

“Many women think that some level of anxiety is to be expected during pregnancy, but our data shows that it may not be and women should be encouraged to obtain help from antenatal care providers to help with anxiety throughout their pregnancy.”

Published in PLOS, the research recruited a cohort of 355 pregnant women from a socioeconomically disadvantaged area in South Australia and indicates that comprehensive perinatal mental healthcare is particularly important in socioeconomically disadvantaged populations.

“Anxiety symptoms during pregnancy have emerged as an independent risk factor for adverse obstetric and developmental outcomes,” Prof Clifton said.

“Children of mothers with high levels of anxiety during pregnancy are at risk of displaying impaired fetal growth patterns, particularly in males.  Elevated anxiety symptoms during pregnancy, together with depressive symptoms and stress, predict long term behavioural and emotional problems in the offspring that can be detected as late as adolescence and adulthood.”

“We found that both physical and mental wellbeing are negatively influenced by chronic health conditions such as depression or asthma and every attempt should be undertaken to treat these conditions as effectively as possible in pregnancy.”

The study recognised that the systematic measurement of health parameters over time can reveal novel information, which in turn have the potential to inform preventive strategies and to further improve the efficacy of pre-natal screening programs.

The research was published in PLOS ONE