Prenatal Depression: New Study Links to History of Abuse & Eating Disorders

New Study Helps to Break the Silence on Prenatal Depression

Depression, (in it’s many forms) and I are well aquatinted. Have I personally struggled with it, as in me? Am I or have I been diagnosed with a clinical form of depression? No. I think all of us have gone through times of being depressed, perhaps even deeply so – where you start to wonder, ‘should I get checked out?’

During pregnancy or otherwise. Loved ones, both close family and friends are the ones that I speak of. But those are their stories, and not mine to share.

Breaking The Silence

We hear about postpartum (PPD) but rarely do we talk or hear about prenatal depression. This recent study though, comes as no short surprise to me, as a woman who worked in Social Work and has lived in the manic company of (depression). Researchers at the University of North Carolina, have determined that pregnancy-related depression is linked to having a history of physical or sexual abuse and eating disorders and 1 in 10 women suffer from it. This resonated within me to my core. As a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, I know, through my academic training and personal struggle/healing journey and it’s many stages through it all; this could be me.

Honestly? I am coping, at best; through this pregnancy. I am overwhelmed and exhausted much of the time. Dark memories come to the surface much more when pregnant than when I am not. Nightmares/night terrors seem to come back with the same frequency and disturbance of my younger years. At times, it affects my work production I find myself in a pool of tears over not much. Or so I try to tell myself in that ‘SUCK IT UP!’ way that many of us survivors often have with our inner struggle. Those are on my bad days. There are good days too and I am a PRO at keeping the bad days under wraps. Except perhaps to my partner.

Of course, it doesn’t help that many of the symptoms of prenatal depression are that of common pregnancy ailments. How do we know whether the fatigue, insomnia and appetite changes experienced are run-of-the-mill pregnancy woes, or symptoms of full-on prenatal depression? If they are associated by such standard symptoms of depression as persistent sadness, a lack for enjoying life, anxiety, an inability to concentrate and/or extreme irritability, you should at least consider the possibility that you could be suffering from prenatal depression.


The study surveyed 158 pregnant and postpartum women undergoing treatment for depression. One-third of the patients reported a history of eating disorders. Also, many had a history of physical or sexual abuse, which could increase a woman’s chances of developing depression during or after pregnancy. Well, no duh. The same researched data has been published countless times in regards to those who are not pregnant, why on earth would these things not affect a pregnant woman? Or only until such recent ‘discoveries?’ Oh, I forgot. Because pregnant women are supposed to be blissed out, shiny happy people.


I wonder how long it will take then; for the US, Canada, INCLUDING reservation clinics, (and a disgusting amount of other sets of patient referral and treatment procedures/policies that need to be implemented on rez), and the rest of the world to catch on? How long before:

‘Mental health screening tools that include questions about eating disorders, abuse and other factors need to be incorporated into routine prenatal care,’ as Samantha Meltzer-Brody said, MD, the lead author of the study and director of UNC’s Perinatal Psychiatry Program. “Making sure mothers struggling with mental health issues receive adequate assessment and treatment is critical to breaking that cycle,” said Meltzer-Brody.

“The message we need to get out is that these things are incredibly common and routine screenings need to occur,” said Meltzer-Brody. “The prevalence of abuse and eating disorder histories may be much higher than people appreciate…pregnancy and the postpartum period is a very vulnerable time for women,” continued Meltzer-Brody.

Talk about taking a good, hard look at oneself and assessing my needs. Are there other pregnant women out there who are perhaps experiencing the same, or worse, and afraid to speak out or get support? Are my struggles that big? No. While I definitely feel guilty enough for them to be, they are not. But. I’m a survivor with an incredible support system. Not all women are so lucky. I am grateful for the ceremonies that have been passed onto me by my elders to help this process along and see some light.

I am grateful that even as I write this, I feel more centered and know that my ongoing/past treatments will get me through. This is for the women/pregnant women who have not had treatment or are too ashamed to seek it. Therapy, in it’s many forms, is a form of STRENGTH not weakness. (If only it were accessible for all). Seek it if you can. For you and your child(ren). Even though there will be hum-dinger, horrible days, for the most part – you will find peace. Even happiness. Blessed be the child who rises above. Blessed be the child of the mother who rises above.

The full study has been published in The Journal of Women’s Health and can be partially viewed here.

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