Indigenous women more likely to have mental health issues around birth of baby: Study

First author Sawayra Owais, MD/PhD student, and senior author Ryan Van Lieshout, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences. Photo by Tina Depko

Indigenous women are at a 62 per cent increased risk for experiencing mental health problems around the birth of a baby, particularly depression, anxiety and substance misuse, says a study from McMaster University.

“Resiliency among Indigenous women, cultural teachings, and issues with how previous research was done may have impacted the result,” said first author Sawayra Owais, a student of McMaster’s MD/PhD program.

“But it’s important that we quantify the problem. More research is needed, but now there can be development of appropriate screening, treatment protocols, and allocation of resources.”

She led a team of researchers in a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous studies of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women. Studies were eligible if they assessed mental health in Indigenous women during pregnancy and/or up to a year after the birth.

Of 26 studies reviewed, there were more than 444,500 women, including almost 40,000 who are Indigenous. Twenty-one studies were reviewed in detail and found Indigenous women were 62 per cent more likely to have mental health issues during their pregnancy or after the birth of their baby compared to non-Indigenous women.

“These results emphasize the urgent need for improved screening and treatment, given that Indigenous women may be at higher risk for more severe illness,” said senior author Ryan Van Lieshout, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster.

Bernice Downey is an author of the study and assistant professor of Indigenous health for McMaster’s School of Nursing and its Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences.

“Indigenous people have faced unique social origins of mental health problems including forced displacement, colonization and dissolution of traditional family units,” she says. “It may be surprising that the reported rates of mental health problems is not higher.”

The study was published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry today. There was no external funding.

Read the paper here.

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