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Why do women suffer mental heath problems?

Updated on June 13, 2011


Previous studies have concentrated on “Why do women suffer mental heath problems?” those reveal that Stress in life is known to make a person more likely to become depressed. She may not be entitled to ‘relaxation’ time or time for herself because her work is not valued. Also at home she may face pressure to produce children. (Patel,V.) The physical symptoms associated with stress (increased heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension) are our flight or fright response. If pregnant women remain in a highly stressed state for a long time due to the above reasons the hormonal and chemical changes exert a negative response on the body leading to high blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, depression and increased susceptibility to infections such as cold and flu. Not only does it affect the mother,but in sustained periods of severe stress there is an increased risk of pre-term labour, low birth weights and complications such as pre-eclampsia.

Up to two-thirds of pregnant women have some psychological symptoms, especially in the first and third trimesters, particularly anxiety but also irritability, lability of mood and depression A psychiatric disorder is more common in the first and third trimesters than in the second. In the first trimester unwanted pregnancies are associated with anxiety and depression. In the third trimester there may be fears about the impending delivery or doubts about the normality of the fetus (Gelder, al,1999), ( Puri, BK. et al 2002).

One of the research carried out to; identify factors associated with high antenatal psychosocial stress and describe the course of psychosocial stress during pregnancy the study results obtained have showed that majority of participants reported antenatal psychosocial stress. Depression, panic disorder, drug use, domestic, and having medical co morbidities are significantly associated with high psychosocial stress. They have found antenatal psychosocial stress is common, and high levels are associated with maternal factors known to contribute to poor pregnancy outcomes. (Woods et al, 2009) In developing countries such as ours, several factors might lead to stress amongst pregnant women. These maybe socio-economic problems, poor family support, new experience for women who are pregnant for the first time, thoughts about the future life with a baby and several other factors contribute to stress during pregnancy.

Researches have found that teenage mothers had higher levels of distress than their childless adolescent peers and adult mothers, but the experience of teenage childbearing did not appear to be the cause. Rather teenage mothers' distress levels were already higher than their peers before they became pregnant, and they remained higher after childbearing and into early and middle adulthood. They have also found that distress did not increase the likelihood of adolescent childbearing except among poor teenagers. (Mollborn, S. Morningstar E, 2009)

Because the brain undergoes dramatic changes during fetal development it is vulnerable to environmental insults. There is evidence that maternal stress and anxiety during pregnancy influences birth outcome but there are no studies that have evaluated the influence of stress during human pregnancy on brain morphology. It has been showed that regional reductions in gray matter density in association with pregnancy anxiety after controlling for total gray matter volume, age, gestational age at birth, handedness and postpartum perceived stress. Researches has reveal that independent of postnatal stress, pregnancy anxiety at 19 weeks gestation was associated with gray matter volume reductions in the prefrontal cortex, the premotor cortex, the medial temporal lobe, the lateral temporal cortex, the postcentral gyrus as well as the cerebellum extending to the middle occipital gyrus and the fusiform gyrus. High pregnancy anxiety at 25 and 31 weeks gestation was not significantly associated with local reductions in gray matter volume. It further says that altered gray matter volume in brain regions affected by prenatal maternal anxiety may render the developing individual more vulnerable to neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders as well as cognitive and intellectual impairment. (Bruss C et al, High 2009).

It is been revealed prenatal environmental exposures--including maternal psychologic state-based alterations in in utero physiology--can have sustained effects across the lifespan. Stress in pregnancy predicts earlier birth and lower birth weight. Researchers have found that Pregnancy-specific stress contributed directly to preterm delivery and indirectly to low birth weight through its association with smoking. Pregnancy-specific stress can be a more powerful contributor to birth outcomes than general stress. (Lobel, M. 2008), (Kinsella, MT. Monk, C. 2009).The emotional states of pregnant women affect the course of their pregnancies, their deliveries and the behaviour and development of their infants. Moderate levels of anxiety during pregnancy alter infant orientation and self-regulation. These aspects of infant behaviour could lead to later attachment, behavioural and developmental problems. Maternal emotional stability during pregnancy improves infant self-regulation and severalaspects of infant behaviour that may predispose them to better interactions with their parents. (Hernandez-Martinez C et al, 2008). It is obvious though not consistently, that maternal psychological distress during pregnancy leads to adverse birth outcomes. Therefore future work should address the biological mechanisms underlying the association of maternal distress with fetal development and focus on the effects of reducing psychological distress in pregnancy. (Henrichs J et al, 2009)

The stress in pregancy could be reduced by some of the ways mentioned below.

  • Identify the causes of stress : maybe her long commute, finances, family relationships
  • Simplify life: cut out activities that sap your energy and time
  • Clarify priorities: learn to say "no", decide what is really important and what can be addressed later
  • Ask for help: turn to family, friends, or a counselor
  • Exercising has been proven to be a true reliever of stress. It helps to release tension and lift your mood. Physical activities such as nature walks can calm and be relaxing.
  • Getting adequate sleep helps from becoming tired and less able to deal with the fast-pace of modern life.


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    • Ddraigcoch profile image

      Emma 6 years ago from UK

      Very accurate hub. Thank you.