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Good News On Samoan Maternal Mental Health

Good News On Samoan Maternal Mental Health

Samoan mothers have amongst the lowest rates of postnatal depression in the world. However, variation between Pacific Island groups is great and highlights the importance of considering the needs of particular groups. Understanding why Samoan mothers have such low rates, even when exposed to major risk factors, could be of great benefit to women worldwide.

These conclusions came from research presented today by Professor Max Abbott at the 3rd Biennial World Conference on Mental Health Promotion and Prevention of Mental Illness and Related Disorders held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Auckland.

Professor Max Abbott is AUT’s Pro-Vice Chancellor (North Shore) and Dean of the Faculty of Health. The findings are from the Pacific Islands Families First 2 Years of Life (PIF) Study, a longitudinal investigation of 1398 South Auckland Infants, based at AUT’s National Institute for Public Health and Mental Health Research. The PIF is co-directed by Associate Professor Janis Paterson and Dr Teuila Percival.

16.5% of mothers experienced postnatal depression six weeks following childbirth.

“While the overall mental health of Pacific Island mothers is similar to New Zealand mothers generally following childbirth,” said Professor Abbott, “this average figure masks large differences between groups”.

“The depression rate for Samoan mothers at 8% is very low indeed by international standards, with only two of hundreds of studies being this low. Most studies that use similar measures to our study obtained rates from 10% to 20%. Rates for other Pacific Island groups including European mothers of Pacific Island babies are high, ranging from 18% to 31%.”

“These findings underline how important it is to avoid over-generalisation along ethnic lines. In the case of postnatal depression Pacific Island mothers in South Auckland have amongst the lowest and highest prevalence rates in the world. It depends which group you are referring to.”

Professor Abbott said postnatal depression is a significant health issue globally. While widespread it is often undetected and untreated. It was once thought to be a ‘culture bound syndrome’ peculiar to urban Western societies but research has found it is universal and that depression during pregnancy is also commonplace.

Apart from having a major impact on mothers’ wellbeing and quality of life, recent international research has found that postnatal depression leads to disturbances in partner and mother-infant relationships and affects children’ long-term emotional and intellectual development.

In addition to being non-Samoan, a number of other factors had a strong relationship with postnatal depression. Risk factors include low Pacific acculturation, low family income, stress due to insufficient money for food, dissatisfaction with home/housing and transport problems. Having an unhappy relationship, being unhappy with pregnancy or the birth experience and baby’s sleep patterns were also important.

“Most of these risk factors point to positive things that can be done to prevent postnatal depression from developing. Having a strong sense of cultural identify; adequate income, housing and transportation; good relationships and support; positive pregnancy and birth experience are all important for good mental health. Investment in these areas will pay long-term dividends in terms of maternal and family wellbeing and the development of healthy, well-adjusted children.”

“There is much to be learned about why Samoan mothers do so well, even when exposed to high levels of adversity. There may be protective factors operating that could benefit other mothers.”

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