Mental health problems during pregnancy are more common than you think

Pregnancy isn't always joyous: New research shows that one in four women struggles with some sort of mental health problem while they're expecting.

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For many women, pregnancy can be an isolating experience. The first trimester is generally shrouded in secrecy, then even once your friends and family know you’re expecting, there’s no helping the fact that you go through major hormonal, emotional and physical changes all by yourself. Struggling with a mental health issue on top of these changes can make you feel even more alone, but it’s important to know that you’re not: A new study says one in four women have mental health problems during pregnancy.

The study, which was published in the British Journal of Psychiatry and funded by the National Institute for Health Research, looked at 545 pregnant women in the U.K. and found that 27 percent suffered from mental health disorders. Among the women studied, 15 percent had anxiety, 11 percent suffered from depression, two percent were dealing with eating disorders and two percent had obsessive compulsive disorder. A very small percentage also had post-traumatic stress disorder or bipolar disorder.

Though pregnancy is considered a joyful time of life, the truth is that it can increase the risk for some mental health issues. For instance, eating disorders can be triggered by the changes in your body. And if you’re regularly a worrier, you might find anxiety reaches new heights when you’re expecting. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, though six percent of women will experience depression at some point in their lives, the risk rises to 10 percent during pregnancy. And research has shown that postpartum depression can actually begin during pregnancy.

Though these mental health issues are surprisingly common, that doesn’t mean they should be considered normal, or just another part of your pregnancy. It’s important to talk to your doctor about any concerns. The researchers behind the new study point out that, because having a mental illness during pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes for both the mother and child (right up until adolescence), diagnosis and treatment should happen as soon as possible. Mom looking at her babyI'm worried I'll pass my depression on to my daughter

Researchers also looked at screening tools that health professionals use to help recognize mental health issues and they found that two simple Whooley Questions (that consist of: “During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?” and “During the past month, have you often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things?”) were just as effective as a 10-part questionnaire in identifying mental health problems.

But even if your doctor never asks, it’s important to speak up about how you’re feeling—for the good of yourself and your baby.  Though it can be scary to broach the topic, know that you’re not alone: When you look around the waiting room at your next prenatal checkup, know that one in four are just like you.

Read more:
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Could there be a simple way to prevent depression during pregnancy?

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