One in six pregnant women or 16 per cent of pregnant women attending maternity services across Ireland are at probable risk of depression during their pregnancy, according to a new survey launched this week by a Trinity College Dublin research team and the Irish Obstetric Services. Mayo Univesity Hospital, Castlebar, was one of the maternity sites involved in this first comprehensive incidence survey. More than 5,000 women at all stages of pregnancy were questioned for the study in Castlebar and at The National Maternity Hospital, Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Limerick, and community antenatal clinics in Tallaght.
The Well Before Birth study – the first such incidence study to be carried out in Ireland – shows that prevalence rates of depression among women giving birth in Ireland are high, and may be higher than those recorded in other OECD countries. Literature from other OECD countries shows prevalence rates of antenatal depression ranging from 10 per cent to 15 per cent.
Veronica O’Keane, professor in psychiatry at Trinity, and the lead research investigator, said that women in Ireland should be screened for depression early in their antenatal care plan and should be encouraged to seek help. "We are advising women to tell their doctors and midwives how they are feeling emotionally during pregnancy," she said.
There is increasing evidence that depression during pregnancy can have an influence on obstetric health and may compromise the physical and mental health of the infant. However, screening for antenatal depression is not routine in Ireland’s maternity hospitals. At present there are only four part-time perinatal psychiatrists working across the country. Perinatal mental health services are grossly under-resourced, according to the research clinicians.