Category Archives: Maternal Mental Health

Pregnant women suffer at hands of violent partners in South Africa

Republished article by Tanya Farber in Sunday Times (South Africa)

Many South Africa women‚ already in difficult situations‚ are experiencing violence during pregnancy at the hands of their intimate partners‚ a new study has found.

Of the 376 women who took part in the research‚ 15% had experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) during pregnancy‚ with forms of abuse ranging from sexual and physical to emotional and verbal.

This is against a backdrop of South Africa having intimate partner violence (among all women‚ not just those who are pregnant) which is “double that of the United States of America”‚ and which is as high as 71% in some communities.

The high level of violence during pregnancy in South Africa resulted from a combination of poverty-related factors.

Just published in the international BMC Women’s Health Journal‚ the study was carried out by a team from the University of Cape Town.

The sample was drawn from women attending antenatal services at a primary-level maternity facility in Cape Town.

The researchers found that the high level of violence during pregnancy resulted from a combination of poverty-related factors including food insecurity‚ mental ill-health‚ unemployment‚ unwanted pregnancies‚ and past experiences of abuse.

“In its most severe form‚ violence against pregnant women has been reported as a contributing cause of maternal deaths,” said researchers Sally Field‚ Michael Onah‚ Thandi van Heyningen and Simone Honikman.

It has also been associated with “inadequate uptake of antenatal care‚ with abused women being more likely to delay seeking pregnancy care and to attend fewer antenatal visits.”

For mothers and their unborn babies, results can include “low birth weight‚ foetal death by placental abruption‚ antepartum haemorrhage‚ foetal fracture‚ rupture of the uterus and premature labour”.

Also‚ they add that a “strong association” had been shown between thoughts of suicide and violence experienced by pregnant women.

They said that in South Africa‚ “high levels of violence occur within a context of multiple contributing social dynamics. These include prominent patriarchal norms where masculinity is associated with the defence of honour‚ harshness‚ and risk-taking.”

They added: “Poverty and gender inequalities contribute to the structural determinants of violence.

“Women in stable but unmarried relationships were more likely to have reported experiencing IPV than those who were married.”

Where to from here? The researchers said the study contributed towards a greater understanding of the risk profile for IPV among pregnant women in low-income settings.

 

This research and other PMHP findings are available open-source online!

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Bringing mental health of mothers into the spotlight in Africa

In most societies, mothers are the primary providers of care to young children. This is a demanding task and the mental health of a mother is not only essential to her well-being, but that of her child’s physical health, nutrition and psychological well-being. However, most child development programmes do not adequately address maternal mental health.

Recent research has shown that about 20% of mothers in developing countries experience some form of mental health problems during or after childbirth. The United Nation’s Secretary-General António Guterres has recently acknowledged that the issue of mental health remains a largely neglected issue and announced the UN’s commitment to “working with partners to promote full mental health and well-being for all”.

Moreover, professionals in the field are pointing out that the mental health of mothers is critical to the success of the UN Sustainable Development Goals on health, nutrition and gender equality (SDG 3, 2 and 5).

In South Africa, the rate of pregnant and postnatal mothers suffering from common mental disorders (depression and/or anxiety) can reach up to one in three. Many of them are poor, come from disadvantaged communities and face many obstacles in accessing services and care.

Across Africa, the majority of women experiencing challenges to their mental health during the perinatal period (pregnancy and up to one year after the birth) are also exposed to gender-based violence, economic and gender inequalities, physical illnesses (including HIV), complications of childbirth and the stresses of childcare. Suicide has been identified as one of the leading causes of maternal death worldwide.

Unfortunately, health care systems in most African countries are not equipped to deal with the complex health and social challenges faced by most mothers. With competing physical health priorities and constrained resources, mental health care remains seriously neglected.

To challenge the status-quo and to improve the mental health of mothers in Africa, a group of individuals and organisations are working together in the newly established African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (AAMMH).

AAMMH believes that a multi-sectoral approach is needed to tackle the causes of poor maternal mental health in Africa. The alliance calls for the integration of existing evidence-based interventions for the detection, prevention and treatment of maternal mental health problems into reproductive and child health programmes, supported by mental health services with specialist expertise.

This call for action is very close to the PMHP’s mission to develop and advocate for accessible maternal mental health care that can be delivered effectively in low-resource settings. We have thus become involved with the Global Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (GAMMH) over the past year since its formation and are now a proud founding partner of its first regional off-shoot, the AAMMH.

Together with colleagues in Malawi, we have been preparing for the upcoming launch on the 19 June in Lilongwe, Malawi. Prior to the launch, we will conduct a training workshop with health care providers and managers in maternal, mental and child health. On the launch day itself, we will be delivering a keynote address sharing the experience of the PMHP and will also be conducting a workshop towards establishing strategies for working partnerships across sectors for maternal mental health.

We hope our experience and work in South Africa, and in other low and middle-income countries, will contribute to the development and growth of this pan-African advocacy initiative. At the same time, we look forward to collaborating and learning from advocates, practitioners, trainers and researchers across Africa to strengthen the work we do in South Africa.

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The African Alliance for Maternal Mental Health (AAMMH) is part of the Global Alliance of Maternal Mental Health and works in close collaboration with the Marcé Society African Regional Group.

AAMMH will be officially launched in Lilongwe, Malawi on 19 June 2018. You can follow the event by using the hashtag #AAMMH #GAMMH

Read more about aims and objectives of the AAMMH here.

Addressing the Maternal Mental Health Diagnosis Gap through screening tools

Source: Maternal Health Task Force blog

Diagnosis gap in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs)

Despite contributing significantly to maternal deaths and unproductive life years, common perinatal mental disorders (CPMD) often go undetected among women in low-resource regions. This can mean that up to 80% of women remain untreated in such settings. Resource-constrained primary care centers, high patient volumes, lack of recognition by health workers as well as increased task shifting to semi-skilled health workers contribute to this treatment gap. In order to encourage timely identification of CPMD among mothers followed by referrals, antenatal care provision centers are a promising platform in LMICs due to the high level of touchpoints between expectant women and health systems. In South Africa, for example, a mother’s contact rate with any antenatal care facilities is quite high at approximately 91%. […]

Empathic engagement training

Lead author Thandi van Heyningen shares insight into progress and next steps for improving maternal mental health in low-resource settings:

“Where health system resources are scarce, one way of improving detection and improving access to treatment, is to integrate these services into existing, routine, primary health care services using a stepped care approach. Improving detection through routine antenatal screening may provide a vital first step, however there is a need to generate further evidence on the feasibility and acceptability of existing screening tools for use in such settings, and by non-specialist health care workers.”

Read the full paper “Comparison of mental health screening tools for detecting antenatal depression and anxiety disorders in South African women” in the MHTF-PLOS collection on NCDs and maternal health

How hunger affects the mental health of pregnant mothers

Source: The Conversation/ Perinatal Mental Health Project

The mental health of pregnant women can be affected by a range of factors, including partner violence and unemployment. But one of the key drivers that adversely affects a pregnant woman’s mental health is food insecurity. Being food insecure is when someone doesn’t have food or has the wrong kinds of food.

This is one of the key findings of our study, conducted in an impoverished community in Cape Town which is also regarded as one of the most violent in South Africa.

We set out to explore the factors that affected common mental health problems in pregnant women. These included intimate partner violence, unemployment and food insecurity. We found that women who don’t get enough to eat when they are pregnant face a high risk of developing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after giving birth. And they are likely to have suicidal thoughts during this time too.

Several studies have analysed antenatal depression and shown that there are higher rates of depression among mothers-to-be in low socio-economic settings.

The South African Government provides social grants to mothers who meet certain low-income criteria after the birth of their babies. But, based on our findings, we would argue that women should be eligible for poverty alleviation support while they are pregnant. This would benefit them physically and emotionally. Research from a range of developing countries shows that providing pregnancy support grants benefits mothers and their children.

Based on these findings, and our own research, our view is that mental well-being and food security policies should be rolled out together as part of an antenatal care package for women. This is important because managing the mental health of mothers’ can help children develop better.

Pressures of poverty

In South Africa more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. This means that many families in poor communities don’t have enough to eat, or don’t have access to healthy food.

Often the food they buy doesn’t last the entire month which means that they skip meals or eat less food because there isn’t money for more. Recent statistics show that two in every ten South African families run out of money for food before the end of the month.

Hanover Park has high rates of unemployment, alcohol and substance abuse, physical and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect.

Our research found that almost half the pregnant women attending the Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit were food insecure.

In the group of nearly 400 pregnant women, about 22% were depressed while 23% had an anxiety disorder; about 10% of women had both common mental disorders. Moderate to high risk levels of suicidal thoughts or behaviours were present in 18%. Being food insecure more than doubled the chance of a pregnant women developing depression or an anxiety disorder and was very strongly associated with previously having attempted suicide.

We also found that many women who had had their second, third or fourth child and lived in families with minimal income felt overwhelmed and hopeless at the prospect of bringing another child into the world.

The consequences

There are both short and long-term consequences of untreated mental illness in pregnant mothers.

Women with mental illness may find it challenging to use optimally existing services, including health services. Untreated depression in pregnancy has also been shown to be linked to premature birth and low birth weight.

After giving birth, mothers may have difficulty caring for themselves or their babies. Pregnancy is a critical window of development for a baby. When women develop mental health problems during pregnancy and after birth it may affect this window. If a new mother isn’t able to connect emotionally with her baby, in some cases neglect, or even hostility towards the baby can follow. Breastfeeding may also be affected.

These all matter for the healthy development of a child. If they’re deprived of these inputs they can, in the longer term, develop social, emotional and behavioural problems.

Solving the problem

The first big challenge is that public health and social service systems need to be revamped. Public health systems are aimed at decreasing maternal mortality rates. They’re equipped to help pregnant women deal with challenges such as HIV, massive blood loss or high blood pressure. But mental disorders, which occurs in 20-40% of pregnant women living in poor communities, often go unattended.

Our view is that common mental health problems should be detected and managed in routine maternity care settings. Non-specialist care providers, who have been properly trained and supervised, could use brief screening tools to detect problems and provide onsite counselling to women who need it.

But helping mothers cope with mental illness also needs government intervention to ensure that they don’t go hungry. This may be addressed by a social grant that begins in the antenatal period. This is only likely to have a meaningful impact if it has all components – the social, the physical and the mental.

Domestic Violence against Women during and after pregnancy

Women are particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse during and after their pregnancy. 

Protect yourself and your baby – help is available!

It is important to know what kinds of behaviour is considered domestic abuse – it is not only physical or sexual harm. Did you know that domestic abuse can happen between any persons sharing a household – not only at the hands of your partner?

Domestic violence in period is associated w/adverse obstetric outcomes. If you are pregnant & experiencing our guide provides information on where to go and who to contact if you need support

 

 

Our journey continues – 2017 in a nutshell

2017 has been, mostly, a successful year for the PMHP with some major achievements. We have seen our strategic model realised in concrete terms in many of the arenas where we work: we identify key service gaps, conduct research, develop policy and support widespread implementation by others.

Click the image to read our Annual Report 2017

Find the PDF version and previous reports on our website.

Lean, but still going strong!

We started the year with a new publication on the relation of food insecurity, poverty and depression in pregnant women.
This year, we will focus on our research and advocacy activities, while strengthening our collaboration with advocates and researchers around the globe.
We want to use this opportunity to thank our partners and donors for their unwavering support!!
More on that in our latest newsletter.

Non-Communicable Diseases and Maternal Health Around the Globe

To commemorate International Women’s Day PLOS ONE, in collaboration with the Maternal Health Task Force,  published this list of research – focusing on non-communicable illness such as depression or obesity during pregnancy and how it impacts women and their children.

Non-Communicable Diseases and Maternal Health Around the Globe

“Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) account for almost 65% of women’s deaths around the globe, and three-quarters of women’s deaths caused by NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries. This collection […] aims to draw attention to issues surrounding non-communicable diseases, with a particular focus on risk factors and implications for reproductive or maternal health.”

Click on the image or follow this link to the “Non-Communicable Diseases and Maternal Health Around the Globe” collection.

Disrespect and abuse (D&A) during facility-based childbirth

Source: Maternal Health Task Force

Researchers Share Lessons Learned From Measuring the Prevalence of Disrespect and Abuse

Posted on 

By: Sarah Hodin, Project Coordinator II, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Disrespect and abuse (D&A) during facility-based childbirth has been identified as a widespread problem, but just how commonly it happens is not well understood. Several studies have attempted to measure the prevalence of D&A during childbirth in health facilities across the globe, resulting in a wide range of estimates. Given that variations in reported prevalence may be at least in part the result of differences in definitions, measurement tools and data collection methods, comparing the extent of D&A across diverse settings remains challenging.

In order to better understand the trade-offs related to various methods for measuring the prevalence of D&A, the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF)’s Rima Jolivet and Harvard Chan doctoral student David Sando conducted a systematic literature review to find all of the studies that have attempted to measure D&A during childbirth in health facilities. They then collaborated with the authors of these studies to compare methods and offer lessons learned.

The following five studies were included in the review:

The prevalence estimates in these five studies ranged from 15% to 98%. Given that all of these studies were conducted in low-resource settings in sub-Saharan Africa with similar maternal health delivery systems, the wide variation was likely due at least in part to differences in the way that researchers chose study sites and participants, defined D&A and collected data from participants.

Recommendations for future studies

The authors offered recommendations for researchers conducting studies that involve measuring the prevalence of D&A in order to maximize reliability, validity and comparability of results:

  1. Study site and population: Ensuring that there are no systematic differences in the study sample compared to the target population is important.
  2. Inclusion criteria: All women receiving maternity care in the study facility should have equal chance of being included regardless of their pregnancy outcomes. Stratified analyses can be used to examine different sub-groups of interest.
  3. Standardization vs. localization: Standardization of measurement across different study populations would ensure comparability of findings between studies, but ensuring valid measures that capture the constructs of D&A as perceived and experienced in the local context is also key. It is therefore important to acknowledge the tension between standardization and localization in developing instruments to measure the prevalence of D&A. Use of standard categories could help maximize comparability, while some leeway may be needed for context-specific operationalization of those categories.
  4. Environment: When possible, conducting interviews with women in a safe, neutral setting outside of the health facility where they may have experienced D&A can help participants feel more comfortable and open.
  5. Timing: In contrast to the typical understanding of recall deteriorating over time, in this context, women’s self-reports of D&A may be more accurate when solicited after they have had some time to process their experiences. More research is needed in this area.
  6. Data collection methods: Direct observation is generally regarded as the gold standard for measuring observable phenomena in prevalence studies. However, if the outcome of interest is women’s experiences of care, using women’s self-reports–ideally collected using patient-developed or patient-validated measures and participatory research techniques—is a better method.

Are you working on measuring the prevalence of disrespect and abuse during facility-based childbirth? We want to hear from you!

Read the full open access paper, “Methods used in prevalence studies of disrespect and abuse during facility based childbirth: Lessons learned.”

PMHP’s Spring update

The Perinatal Mental Health Project is shifting pathways

Read our latest newsletter to find out what we have been up to and how we are planning to go forward

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