Treatment gap and help-seeking for postpartum depression in a rural African setting

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Background: Postpartum depression (PPD) affects more than one in ten women and is associated with adverse consequences for mother, child and family. Integrating mental health care into maternal health care platforms is proposed as a means of improving access to effective care and reducing the 'treatment gap' in low- and middle-income countries. This study aimed to determine the proportion of women with PPD who sought help form a health facility and the associated factors. Methods: A community based, cross-sectional survey was conducted in southern Ethiopia. A total of 3147 women who were between one and 12 months postpartum were screened for depressive symptoms in their home using a culturally validated version of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Women scoring five or more (indicating potential depressive disorder) (n = 385) were interviewed regarding help-seeking behavior. Multiple logistic regression was used to identify factors associated independently with help-seeking from health services. Results: Only 4.2 % of women (n = 16) with high PPD symptoms had obtained mental health care and only 12.7 % of women (n = 49) had been in contact with any health service since the onset of their symptoms. In the multivariable analysis, urban residence, adjusted odds ratio (aOR): 4.39 (95 % confidence interval (CI) 1.23, 15.68); strong social support, aOR: 2.44 (95 % CI 1.30, 4.56); perceived physical cause, aOR: 6.61 (95 % CI 1.76, 24.80); perceived higher severity aOR: 2.28 (95 % CI 1.41, 5.47); perceived need for treatment aOR: 1.46 (95 % CI 1.57, 18.99); PHQ score, aOR: 1.14 (95 % CI 1.04, 1.25); and disability, aOR: 1.06 (95 % CI 1.01, 1.15) were associated significantly with help-seeking from health services. More than half of the women with high levels of PPD symptoms (n = 231; 60.0 %) attributed their symptoms to a psychosocial cause and 269 (69.9 %) perceived a need for treatment. Equal proportions endorsed biomedical treatment and traditional or religious healing as the appropriate intervention. Conclusion: In the absence of an accessible maternal mental health service the treatment gap was very high. There is a need to create public awareness about PPD, its causes and consequences, and the need for help seeking. However, symptom attributions and help-seeking preferences indicate potential acceptability of interventions located in maternal health care services within primary care.




Azale, T., Fekadu, A., & Hanlon, C. (2016). Treatment gap and help-seeking for postpartum depression in a rural African setting. BMC Psychiatry, 16(1).

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