Being a millennium is not a picnic. But a new study published this Friday at JAMA Open suggests that it is especially difficult for future moms. He discovered that pregnant women today are more likely to feel depressed than their mothers during their pregnancies a generation ago.
The researchers analyzed data from an ongoing population study in the United Kingdom that began in the early 1990s. The study tracked the health of newly pregnant women and, ultimately, their children. As some of these children reached the age of 20 in the decade of 2010, they became pregnant or, in the case of sons, they fathered children with other women. This allowed the authors of this current study an opportunity to directly compare the two groups of mothers over time.
They found that 17 percent of the 2,390 pregnant women originally recruited had high levels of depressive symptoms, based on a scale commonly used to screen for depression before and after giving birth. From 2012 to 2016, 180 women of the second generation had children. And of these women, 25 percent reported high levels of depressive symptoms. The difference between the groups was maintained even after taking into account other known factors of depression such as body mass index, level of education or smoking history. The comparison of only direct mother-daughter pairs did not modify the mathematics either.
"Using a unique data source, we present evidence that depression in young pregnant women is greater today than in the 1990s," the authors wrote.
It is far from the first study to suggest that young people today are more depressed than in past generations. But it is difficult to isolate whether this increase reflects a genuine increase in depression. Surveys conducted a generation ago could evaluate depression in a different way than surveys currently do. Or perhaps only certain groups of people become more depressed but not others, and general population surveys may not reflect that trend (some research cited by the authors show that this increase is particularly pronounced among young women).
Relying on the same data set, which involves women who were asked about depression in the same way and at the same time in pregnancy, could make a clearer comparison, say the authors.
There are still some important caveats for your research, however, no less important is the much smaller number of mothers in the second group. Because today's women generally have children at a later age, there is also the possibility that these relatively younger mothers are more vulnerable to depression than typical women. And the study still can not tell us whether women today are more depressed than in the past or if they are simply more willing to admit that they are depressed, thanks to a reduced stigma surrounding mental health problems.
But if the changes are genuine, then there could be a number of reasons for the increase.
"Chronic stress, lack of sleep, eating habits, sedentary lifestyle and the accelerated pace of modern life may be contributing to an increasing prevalence of depression among young people in general," the authors wrote. Lack of parental leave laws, inflexible work schedules and a generally more complicated economy could also hurt pregnant women workers. And the researchers even found some evidence that women who were depressed in the 1990s during pregnancy may increase the risk of their daughters developing depression during pregnancy.
According to their findings, the authors support the increased detection of depression for pregnant young women as well as greater mental health resources. These interventions, they wrote, could simply "minimize the potentially far-reaching impact of depression on mothers, their children and future generations."