Children's mental health could be affected if a woman suffers depression in pregnancy

  • A study has found that levels of stress hormone cortisol, which become raised when suffering with depression, can have an effect on the foetus, and later effect children in their lives. Pregnancy Close-up

    Research taken at Bristol University has found that children of women who suffer from depression whilst pregnant have an increased chance of becoming depressed themselves by the age of 18. This is due to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is heightened during depression, can affect the development of the foetus when in the womb.

    Experts are now calling for more women who find themselves becoming depressed in pregnancy to get help as the study has confirmed that the development of people's mental health begins before birth.

    "The message is clear: helping women who are depressed in pregnancy will not only alleviate their suffering but also the suffering of the next generation," said Carmine Pariante, professor of biological psychiatry at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry.

    The study also highlighted that postnatal depression in the mother posed a risk factor for the child's depression in late adolescence, however only in mothers with low education attainment, reports the Guardian.

    The study was carried out by Rebecca Pearson who is a research epidemiologist at Bristol University's school of social community medicine and was published in Journal of American Mediacal Association Psychiatry. Ms Pearson and her colleagues studied data on the mental health of more than 4,500 parents and their adolescent children involved Alspac.

    "The findings have important implications for the nature and timing of interventions aimed at preventing depression in the offspring of depressed mothers. In particular, the findings suggest that treating depression in pregnancy, irrespective of background, may be most effective," the authors wrote.

    Celso Arango, Professor of psychiatry at the Gregorio Marañón general university hospital, Madris has said that the study is significant. He has said that the mental state of the father during pregnancy has no effect on the long-term health of the child, which may implicate cortisol in the womb.

    "Researchers are only just beginning to realise that it is not psychiatrists, psychologists or neuroscientists that are having the biggest impact on preventing mental health issues - it is gynaecologists," he said.

    "This is something that needs much more research as we have seen similar impacts in schizophrenia with increased risk in mothers that developed schizophrenia during the war and passed on an increased risk to their children."

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