Home Society & Culture Depression Affects 18.5% of Pregnant Refugees on The Thai-Myanmar Border, Reveals New Study

Depression Affects 18.5% of Pregnant Refugees on The Thai-Myanmar Border, Reveals New Study

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A recent study highlights the prevalence and contributing factors of persistent depression among pregnant refugee and migrant women living along the Thai-Myanmar border. Conducted by researchers at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU), the study provides valuable insights into the mental health challenges faced by this vulnerable population.

The findings were published in the journal Welcome Open Research.

Depression during pregnancy, also known as antepartum depression, affects around 15% of pregnant women globally. However, this rate is significantly higher among refugee and migrant women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), such as those living along the Thai-Myanmar border. The study found that the prevalence of moderate-to-severe perinatal depression in this population was 18.5%.

Several factors contribute to the high rates of depression among pregnant women in this region. Financial problems, interpersonal violence, substance misuse among partners, social issues, and poor health were the most frequently cited reasons. Financial concerns were particularly prevalent, with many women linking their depressive symptoms to economic hardships. The inability to provide for their families often led to feelings of worthlessness and anxiety about the future.

One participant, a 31-year-old mother of three, expressed her sadness over not being able to buy snacks or an umbrella for her children, highlighting the emotional toll of financial stress. Another participant, aged 21, worried about affording school expenses for her children and taking care of her new baby.

Interpersonal violence and substance misuse were also significant contributors to depression. Many women reported experiences of intimate partner violence, often linked to their husbands’ alcohol consumption. A 39-year-old participant recounted being abused by her husband, resulting in a broken rib.

Despite these challenges, the study identified several protective factors that can mitigate the effects of depression. Social support, accessible healthcare, and distractions were found to improve mental well-being. Participants noted the positive impact of support from healthcare staff, emphasising the importance of raising awareness among healthcare providers about the value of listening to and supporting pregnant women with antepartum depression.

Access to healthcare services is a significant issue for refugee and migrant women along the Thai-Myanmar border. Service provision is minimal on the Myanmar side, and women accessing clinics in Thailand face language barriers, limited transportation, and a reduced range of services for non-Thai nationals. To address these challenges, SMRU provides antenatal clinic (ANC) services along the border, staffed by individuals fluent in local languages and familiar with the community’s needs.

The findings of this study have important implications for the provision of mental health support to pregnant refugee and migrant women in this region. The researchers recommend developing a context-specific and locally validated screening tool to identify women at risk of antepartum depression. This tool should be developed in the native languages of the local population and reflect culturally relevant experiences of depression.

The study underscores the need for multi-sectoral advocacy to address issues such as unemployment, financial scarcity, and gender-based violence (GBV) along the Thai-Myanmar border. Increasing awareness among healthcare staff about the substantial barriers to good mental health facing these women and promoting initiatives that enhance social support and healthcare provision are crucial steps towards improving maternal mental health in this population.

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