Research identifies why Pacific women are more likely  to experience symptoms of depression in pregnancy  

22 August 2019

Kindly provided by Growing up in New Zealand

 New research highlights the importance of primary healthcare for pregnant Pacific women in New Zealand – around a quarter of whom experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy.   

The Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study of more than 6,000 children and their families has found that Pacific women living in New Zealand are far more likely to experience symptoms of prenatal depression than other ethnic groups.  

University of Auckland research, published in the Journal of Primary Health Care, now provides an in-depth understanding about why Pacific women are more likely to experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy.  

Lead researcher, Dr Lisa Underwood (pictured above), says it’s important to understand what contributes to the higher rates of depressive symptoms among pregnant Pacific women in this country so that appropriate and targeted interventions can be developed.  

“We know that depression during pregnancy means the mum-to-be is at greater risk of postnatal depression and that outcomes for the baby may also be affected.   

“Identifying the specific factors at play for Pacific women can help New Zealand medical professionals to better screen pregnant Pacific women and provide appropriate support,” she says.  

“Identifying the specific factors at play for Pacific women can help New Zealand medical professionals to better screen pregnant Pacific women and provide appropriate support,”

The study used a range of measures to identify factors associated with prenatal depression in the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort of more than 6,000 mothers.   

This analysis found that 23 percent of Pacific women experienced symptoms of prenatal depression, compared with around 14 percent of other women and only around 8 percent of European women. 

Certain groups of New Zealand-based Pacific women were at greater risk, including:  

  • Women who did not have a regular doctor or GP before pregnancy 
  • Women under the age of 25-years-old 
  • Women who suffered moderate to severe nausea during pregnancy 
  • Women who identified as experiencing high stress. 

Dr Underwood says many of these factors also influenced the symptoms of prenatal depression in other ethnic groups, but the lack of a regular doctor or GP was a stand-out for Pacific women.  

“Our figures show that around 44 percent of New Zealand Pacific women without a GP experienced symptoms of prenatal depression and that’s really concerning.  

“This is clearly a group of vulnerable women who do not have access to primary healthcare but are in desperate need of it,” Dr Underwood says.  

Fellow author on the paper, University of Auckland Research Fellow Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow, says the study is useful because it also identifies factors which are protective for pregnant Pacific women.  

She says these include being in a supportive relationship and having a strong sense of belonging to either Pacific or New Zealand culture.  

“Identifying the specific factors at play for Pacific women can help New Zealand medical professionals to better screen pregnant Pacific women and provide appropriate support,”
“Identifying the specific factors at play for Pacific women can help New Zealand medical professionals to better screen pregnant Pacific women and provide appropriate support,”

Dr Underwood says health professionals need to be aware of both the risks and the protective factors for prenatal depression in Pacific women.  

She says there is scope for further research around using depression screening tools for Pacific women.  
 
You can read the paper in the Colleges Journal of Primary Healthcare 
 
The Growing Up in New Zealand study is based at the University of Auckland and managed by UniServices Limited. It is funded by the New Zealand government.