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A quarter of pregnant Pacific women in New Zealand experience symptoms of depression, research shows

Around a quarter of pregnant Pacific women in New Zealand experience symptoms of depression during pregnancy, research shows.

University of Auckland’s Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study of more than 6,000 children and their families has found that Pacific women living in New Zealand are far more likely to experience symptoms of prenatal depression than other ethnic groups.

The study, published in the Journal of Primary Health Care, found that 23 percent of Pacific women experienced symptoms of prenatal depression, compared with around 14 percent of other women and only around 8 percent of European women.

Lead researcher Dr Lisa Underwood says the research highlights the importance of primary healthcare for pregnant Pacific women.

“Identifying the specific factors at play for Pacific women can help New Zealand medical professionals to better screen pregnant Pacific women and provide appropriate support,” she says.

Women without a regular doctor before pregnancy and those under the age of 25 were more likely to experience symptoms of prenatal depression. High stress and nausea also placed women at greater risk.

Dr Underwood says many of these factors also influenced the symptoms of prenatal depression in other ethnic groups, but the lack of a regular doctor or GP was a stand-out for Pacific women.  Around 44 percent of New Zealand Pacific women without a GP experienced symptoms of prenatal depression, a statistic Dr Underwood said was “really concerning”.

“This is clearly a group of vulnerable women who do not have access to primary healthcare but are in desperate need of it,” Dr Underwood says.

Fellow author on the paper, University of Auckland Research Fellow Jacinta Fa’alili-Fidow, says the study is useful because it also identifies factors which are protective for pregnant Pacific women.

She says these include being in a supportive relationship and having a strong sense of belonging to either Pacific or New Zealand culture.

“Identity and connectedness are really important for Pacific women.”

“We need to look beyond primary healthcare to address these root causes.”

Dr Underwood says health professionals need to be aware of both the risks and the protective factors for prenatal depression in Pacific women.

The Growing Up in New Zealand study is based at the University of Auckland and managed by UniServices Limited. It is funded by the New Zealand government.

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