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

07 August 2019
Pregnant woman

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, 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. 

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. 

“Identity and connectedness are really important for Pacific women. Protection and resilience in women from families with low stress and conflict, and who possess a strong sense of identity and connectedness, show that we need to look beyond primary healthcare to address these root causes.” 

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 Journal of Primary Healthcare here.

 

Key Findings: 

• New Zealand-based Pacific women experience higher rates of depressive symptoms during pregnancy compared with non-Pacific women.  

• Around a quarter of pregnant Pacific women in New Zealand experienced symptoms of prenatal depression.

• New Zealand-based Pacific women without a regular GP were four-and-a-half times more likely to experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy.

• Younger New Zealand-based Pacific women, those suffering moderate to severe nausea and those who identified as experiencing high stress were also more likely to suffer depressive symptoms during pregnancy. 

• Further attention is needed to provide appropriate primary health care for Pacific women living in New Zealand.

• An improved screening process and understanding of effective support for New Zealand-based Pacific women in the antenatal period is recommended.