Thanks to tireless work of advocates, more awareness has been raised over the past decade around postpartum depression and its effects on new parents and their children. Although there's still a long way to go, the increase in awareness has led to an increase in post-birth mental health screenings and treatment. However, there's one area that's not talked about nearly enough: Depression during pregnancy. But it's time to start because pregnant millennials are more likely to have depression than older generations, according to new research.
A new study published Friday in The Journal of the American Medical Association: Network Open (JAMA Open) found young pregnant women are at a greater risk for developing depression than their own mothers were a generation ago, according to Gizmodo. Specifically, researchers from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom analyzed data from an ongoing population study on newly pregnant women and their children, and discovered that 25 percent of women who had children between 2012 and 2016 reported high levels of depression during pregnancy, Gizmodo reported. On the contrary, only 17 percent of women who became pregnant in the 1990s, when the population survey began, reported the same.
In other words: Pregnant millennials in the United Kingdom are 51 percent more likely to have depression than their own parents were more than two decades ago, the study's findings show.
Lead study author Rebecca Pearson, a professor in psychiatric epidemiology at the University of Bristol, said of the findings, according to Reuters:
Our data suggest that the symptoms driving the increase in total scores were those related to feeling overwhelmed and stress and anxiety rather than feelings of being down and unmotivated. This supports theories that it is potentially a consequence of the fast-paced modern world.
Pearson went on to explain that financial stress, the pressure to balance work and family obligations, a lack of family and community support, and increased relationship pressure may be some of the factors driving the higher rates of depression among younger moms-to-be, according to Reuters. She also noted that technology, social media, and the internet — all of which "can increase social comparisons and information overload," Pearson said — may play a significant role in the rate uptick, not just among pregnant millennials, but the younger generation as a whole, Reuters reported.
There's research to support Pearson's theory, at least where the internet is concerned. A Depression and Anxiety study published last month found a significant link between negative social media experiences and an increase in depressive feelings. And the likelihood someone would feel depressed related to negative encounters online was far greater than the likelihood someone would feel happy due to positive ones, according to the study's findings.
Family history may also play a role. Although millennials are more likely to experience depression during pregnancy compared to the older generation, the JAMA Open study did find that they were more than three times as likely to cope with antenatal depression if their mothers were depressed while pregnant, according to The Daily Mail.
The Bristol University researchers said the results of their research demonstrate the need for better mental health care in pregnancy. Pearson told The Daily Mail:
Given that depression in pregnancy has substantial impact to both mother and child this is of key importance for health services.
This is more so necessary when you consider that depression during pregnancy is one predictor of postpartum depression, which research shows affects 10 to 15 percent of women in the United States.
Studies have found that, without proper diagnosis and treatment, mothers who have depression are less likely to bond with their babies, which in turn negatively affects the infant's development, according to Reuters. Conversely, research has shown that babies of mothers who receive treatment for depression, including using medication, do better developmentally, Reuters reported.
In the end, one thing is clear: Improving mental health care and services is not only necessary for pregnant women and new parents, but for their children and future generations as well.