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Factors associated with antenatal mental disorder in West Africa: A cross-sectional survey

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      BackgroundMaternal mental illness is likely to have a profound impact in less developed parts of the world. A mother experiencing mental illness in a low income setting is at risk of providing sub-optimal care for her offspring which can have grave consequences in an environment where poverty, overcrowding, poor sanitation, malnutrition, tropical diseases and a lack of appropriate medical services may be pronounced. Given the profound consequences of antenatal and postnatal mental illness on maternal mental health, foetal wellbeing and childhood growth and development the factors associated with mental illness in a Sub-Saharan setting merit clarification and investigation.MethodsA prospective survey design was conducted in Lagos. Self reporting questionnaire 20 items - SRQ20 - assessed the presence of mental illness. The WHO Multi-country Study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence Questions assessed women's exposure to violence. Numerous variables potentially associated with mental illness including maternal socio-economic factors, maternal characteristics, obstetric variables and the characteristics of previous children were recorded. Direct logistic regression was performed to assess the impact of a number of variables on the likelihood of presence of mental disorder in the population.Results189 women were surveyed. 7% met the criteria for experiencing a common mental disorder according to their score on the SRQ-20. Of variables examined only the number of female children and the presence of inter personal violence predicted being a case of mental illness (OR = 3.400; 95%CI = 1.374 - 8.414 and OR = 5.676; 95%CI = 1.251 - 25.757 respectively).ConclusionsRates of mental disorder found in our study were lower than those previously observed internationally and in Africa, perhaps reflecting stigma about disclosing symptoms. The predictive nature of violence on mental disorder is in keeping with international evidence. Our study demonstrated that exposure to inter personal violence within the last 12 months and increasing numbers of female children predict the presence of mental illness in a sample of pregnant Nigerian women. Training and education for primary health care and obstetric health workers should highlight these areas.

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          We review a significant body of evidence from independent prospective studies that if a mother is stressed while pregnant, her child is substantially more likely to have emotional or cognitive problems, including an increased risk of attentional deficit/hyperactivity, anxiety, and language delay. These findings are independent of effects due to maternal postnatal depression and anxiety. We still do not know what forms of anxiety or stress are most detrimental, but research suggests that the relationship with the partner can be important in this respect. The magnitude of these effects is clinically significant, as the attributable load of emotional/behavioral problems due to antenatal stress and/or anxiety is approximately 15%. Animal models suggest that activity of the stress-responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and its hormonal end-product cortisol are involved in these effects in both mother and offspring. The fetal environment can be altered if stress in the mother changes her hormonal profile, and in humans, there is a strong correlation between maternal and fetal cortisol levels. However, many problems remain in understanding the mechanisms involved in this interaction. For example, maternal cortisol responses to stress decline over the course of pregnancy, and earlier in pregnancy, the link between maternal and fetal cortisol is less robust. It is possible that the effects of maternal anxiety and stress on the developing fetus and child are moderated by other factors such as a maternal diet (e.g., protein load). It is suggested that extra vigilance or anxiety, readily distracted attention, or a hyper-responsive HPA axis may have been adaptive in a stressful environment during evolution, but exists today at the cost of vulnerability to neurodevelopmental disorders.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Department of Behavioural Medicine, LASUCOM Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria
            [2 ]Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Stirling Road, Larbert, UK
            [3 ]Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology LASUCOM Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria
            [4 ]Riverside Resource Centre Community Mental Health Team, 8 Sandy Rd, Glasgow, UK
            [5 ]Sackler Institute of Psychobiological Research, Section of Psychological Medicine, Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, UK
            BMC Pregnancy Childbirth
            BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
            BioMed Central
            4 November 2011
            : 11
            : 90
            Copyright ©2011 Ola et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

            Research Article

            Obstetrics & Gynecology


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