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Major Depression During Pregnancy Commonly Goes Untreated

April 30, 2019

Just over half of women in a study who experienced a major depressive episode during pregnancy received no mental health treatment for it, researchers reported in the journal Psychiatric Services.

“Despite current treatment guidelines and policy initiatives, most women with major depressive episodes go without any treatment utilization and perceive an unmet need for their mental health care,” researchers wrote.

Researchers used the nationally representative National Survey on Drug Use and Health to gauge mental health treatment use, unmet need, and the reasons for unmet need among women who were pregnant, compared with women who were not pregnant, who experienced a major depressive episode. The data included 12,360 women of reproductive age, 3% of whom were pregnant and 97% of whom were not.

Counseling Interventions Can Prevent Perinatal Depression

Some 51% of pregnant women, and 43% of women who were not pregnant but of reproductive age, who reported a major depressive episode said they received no mental health treatment for it, researchers reported. Financial concerns appeared to be the primary reason for both groups of women for not receiving needed mental health care.

“It is surprising that 51% of pregnant women with major depressive episode did not receive any mental health treatment,” study author Maria X. Sanmartin, PhD, told Psychiatric News. “OB-GYNs should be asking about patients’ mental health status, raising patient awareness, and at least be offering patients the opportunity to receive mental health treatment.”

According to Psychiatric News, past-month substance abuse reported by pregnant women with a major depressive episode was high, with 23% reporting alcohol use, 17% reporting marijuana use, and 6% reporting misuse of prescription medications for pain.

—Jolynn Tumolo


Sanmartin MX, Ali MM, Chen J, Dwyer DS. Mental health treatment and unmet mental health care need among pregnant women with major depressive episode in the United States. Psychiatric Services. 2019 April 10;[Epub ahead of print].

Pregnant women may be less likely to get depression treatment than other women. Psychiatric News. April 11, 2019.

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