Whitney Witt study finds women’s mental health during pregnancy impacted by their history

UW Health Press Release

Madison, Wis. – A woman with a history of poor mental health is eight times more likely to have the problem occur during pregnancy, a new study shows.

Dr. Whitney Witt and colleagues found that nearly eight percent (7.8 percent) of women reported poor mental health during their pregnancy. Those who had previous mental health problems – such as anxiety and depression – had the highest risk of experiencing poor mental health while they were expecting.

“This is the first national, population-based study that shows that the mother’s previous mental health really matters,’’ says Witt, assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Other factors that increased pregnant women’s risk:

  • having poor physical health during pregnancy, and
  • being unmarried, which can indicate a lack of social support.

The paper, “The Prevalence and Determinants of Antepartum Mental Health Problems Among Women in the US: A Nationally Representative Population-Based Study,” was published in the journal Archives of Women’s Mental Health on ­­­July 29, 2010.  The research was funded by US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, the National Institutes of Health, the University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty, and the University of Wisconsin Center for Demography and Ecology.

The researchers examined data on 3,051 pregnant women ages 14 and older.  The information was collected from pregnant women who took part in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey between 1996 and 2006, a household survey cosponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Center for Health Statistics.

“There is a need for greater focus on mental health screening for all women of reproductive age regardless of their pregnancy status, but especially for women before they become pregnant since it is such an important risk factor,” Witt says.

Further, Witt says these findings suggest that continuity of care is vital to the health of all women. “In an effort to move towards improved quality of care and outcomes for women, women’s mental health needs to be monitored and treated appropriately over the lifecourse.”
At the UW, Witt is affiliated with the Waisman Center, the Institute for Research on Poverty, and the Center for Demography and Ecology. She is a faculty member in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

The paper is available online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126903/