Developing antenatal maternal mental health services: Identifying depression in pregnant women attending antenatal care in Sodo district health centres, Ethiopia

Master Thesis


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Background Major Depressive Disorder is a leading cause of disease burden for women of childbearing age. The prevalence of perinatal depression is significantly higher in women from low and middle income countries than from high income countries. Antenatal depression is associated with low birth weight and preterm delivery. There is also evidence that depression during pregnancy can alter the development of a woman's fetus and her child, with an increased risk for child emotional and behavioral problems. Detection of perinatal depression in primary health care (PHC) is very low. This research gathered evidence on the current practice of detection of pregnant women with moderate-severe depression in the Sodo district and explored potential solutions to the identified challenges. Methods A qualitative study was conducted in four health centres and a primary hospital, located in the Sodo district, Ethiopia. In-depth interviews were carried out with pregnant women diagnosed to have depression. Focus group discussions (FGDs) were conducted with antenatal care (ANC) PHC workers. A framework approach to qualitative data analysis was used. OpenCode computer software was used for data handling during the analysis. Results Nine pregnant women were interviewed in-depth and twelve ANC PHC workers participated in two FGDs. Identified themes were categorized under client, provider and system level barriers, and illness related influences. Women's reluctance to disclose symptoms and seek help and not thinking what they had was an illness and/or not thinking they would get help from ANC clinic were client-side barriers to identifying depression. ANC PHC workers not asking about depressive symptoms, their reluctance to disclose a diagnosis of depression to the affected women and not thinking women with mental health problems are in their clinics were the main provider level barriers. The setting not being conducive for depression assessment, inadequate mental health training and ANC assessment format not having a place for recording mental health assessment were system level barriers raised. Difficulty in differentiating clinical depression from normal emotional reaction emerged as the main illness related influence. ANC PHC workers proposed community awareness-raising, improving communication between women and PHC workers and making mental health assessment part of the routine ANC service, among others, as possible solutions to improve detection of antenatal depression in ANC clinics. Conclusion Multiple client, provider and system level barriers to detection of depression in pregnant women in ANC clinics were identified in the current study. The identified barriers call for interventions at different levels; awareness raising at a community level, training on communicating about emotional concerns and mental health care at a provider level and enabling the health care system to support integration of mental health care into maternal health services at a higher level. Follow-up studies are required to better understand the experiences of women and providers, to quantify the magnitude of the problem and to develop and evaluate contextually appropriate interventions to improve detection of depression in pregnant women.