Research Day

A Stitch In Time Saves Nine: Untreated Perinatal Depression Hurts Future Generations

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BACKGROUND: The perinatal period encompasses the first, second and third trimesters of pregnancy and the first postpartum year. Women are inherently at higher risk of depression, the profound physiological and emotional changes of pregnancy and postpartum period further increases the risk of perinatal depression (PD). While genetic predisposition, previous history of depression, age and parity are important risk factors, a range of socioeconomic factors was found to significantly contribute to developing PD.

CONSEQUENCES OF UNTREATED PERINATAL DEPRESSION: Untreated PD has profound negative consequences for the mother including a significant risk of suicide. PD is can also cause cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems along with insecure attachment for the baby. Mothers with PD were likely to describe their children having behavior problems at age 5. At 10 years the offspring of depressed parents were more likely then control group to develop social impairment, depression, anxiety and alcohol dependence. At 20 years, the same sample was found to have developed cardiovascular and other physical health problems at a higher rate. Furthermore, poor maternal mental health is predictive of reduced academic achievement in the offspring. Since academic achievement is a core measure of human capital and the prosperity of nations rests on human capital, untreated perinatal depression adversely impacts this prospect.

CONCLUSION: The impact of PD is trans-generational with broad societal impact. Universal mental health screening of women during pregnancy and in the first postpartum year should be routine policy to provide early and optimal care for women suffering with perinatal depression.

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