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Depression symptoms are similar in pregnant and nonpregnant women

The symptoms of major depression are essentially the same in women who are pregnant and women who are not, according to a new study by Stanford University researcher Rachel Manber, Ph.D., and her colleagues. The researchers compared three groups of women-pregnant women with major depression, nonpregnant women with major depression, and pregnant women without depressive symptoms. Depressed pregnant women and depressed nonpregnant women had similar severity of depressive symptoms. However, depressed pregnant women had fewer intense feelings of suicide and guilt, and had significantly less difficulty falling asleep, but were more likely to show slowed movement and/or speech.

These findings are consistent with previous findings that childbearing alone has a modest, clinically insignificant effect on psychiatric symptoms. While pregnancy appears to reduce the intensity of some symptoms of depression, standardized measures of depression severity can be used to assess depression during pregnancy.

The researchers recommend that symptoms of psychological distress should not be written off as a normal part of pregnancy and that more attention should be focused on screening and identifying depressed pregnant women. They recruited the two samples of pregnant women (61 depressed and 41 nondepressed) from a larger study conducted at Stanford University through obstetric clinics and ads in local parent and baby magazines. Fifty-three depressed nonpregnant women were recruited from a larger study of acupuncture treatment for depression at the University of Arizona. All of the women were in the same age range, and the two depressed groups had equivalent severity of depressive symptoms.

The researchers administered two standardized measures of depression, the Hamilton Rating Scales for Depression and the Beck Depression Inventory, to all of the women participating in the study.

The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS09988). More details are in "Depression symptoms during pregnancy," by Dr. Manber, Christine Blasey, Ph.D., and John J. B. Allen, Ph.D., in Archives of Women's Mental Health 11, pp. 43-48, 2008.

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