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Pregnant Women: Depression

Volume 459: debated on Tuesday 1 May 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what support is provided by the national health service to pregnant women who are suffering depression during pregnancy; what research has been (a) funded and (b) carried out by her Department on whether there is a link between depression in pregnant women and (i) premature births, (ii) infant death and (iii) severe childhood illness; when her Department last undertook an evidence review on the issue that drew on (A) UK and (B) international research; and if she will make a statement. (132651)

Women who experience mental health problems during or after pregnancy can access the full range of mental health services available in primary and secondary care. The Department has issued guidance, “Mainstreaming gender and women’s mental health: implementation guidance” (DH, 2003), that highlights the need for effective perinatal psychiatric care, specifically the need to develop local care pathways, maternity and psychiatry protocols, access to perinatal psychiatric assessment and adequate mother and baby unit provision based on assessment of local need. Care services improvement partnerships’ national programme on gender equality and women’s mental health is helping local services to implement the recommendations of this guidance. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) also made recommendations in its recent guidance, “Antenatal and postnatal mental health” (NICE, 2007) to improve services for women who experience mental health problems during or after pregnancy.

The Department has not funded any such research. However, the Medical Research Council (MRC), which is one of the main agencies through which the United Kingdom Government supports medical and clinical research, has recently funded a study entitled “Comparison of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in depressed and healthy pregnant women”. The study was led by Dr. Veronica Keane at the Institute of Psychiatry and received MRC funding of £157,700. It was completed in 2006.

The study found results suggesting that depressed women had higher cortisol stress hormones, particularly a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy (corticotropin releasing-hormone) and that this was associated with earlier delivery of babies in the depressed women. The applicants intend to submit follow up studies to the MRC.

The Government do not routinely and systematically compare the research they fund in different disease areas with equivalent research in other countries.