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HEALTH REPORT - Helping Depressed Mothers

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This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

A mental health researcher who has studied depressed mothers in Pakistan plans an effort next year to help them. Doctor Atif Rahman is in the Department of Child Psychiatry at Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in England.

Doctor Rahman led a team that linked depression in women with lower weight in their babies during the first year of life. The team studied six hundred thirty-two women from small villages in Rawalpindi. The women were in good physical health and in the last three months of pregnancy.

The study identified one hundred sixty of the women, or one in four, as depressed. They had lost interest and pleasure in normal life. They always felt sad or tired. They had problems eating or sleeping. They felt guilty and thought about killing themselves.

The researchers compared these women with one hundred sixty others who were not depressed. Health workers then weighed and measured the babies of both groups at birth. Re-examinations took place at two, six and twelve months of age. The health workers also re-examined the mental health of the mothers.

Babies whose mothers remained depressed grew less than the babies of the other women. The babies of the depressed mothers were also more likely to get sick with diarrhea. The findings appeared in September in Archives of General Psychiatry.

Earlier studies showed that ten to fifteen percent of pregnant women and new mothers in Western nations suffer from depression. Other studies in South Asia have found that depression affects almost two times as many women in developing countries.

Conditions in poor countries can make it more difficult to care for a baby. Doctor Rahman says depression can make it even more difficult for a mother to do things such as boil water to kill harmful organisms.

For ten years, Pakistan has employed what are called "lady health workers." These women visit new mothers for up to a year. The workers offer advice about things like health and cleanliness.

Now Doctor Rahman wants to add special support for depressed mothers. The idea is that the health worker will listen to the mother's problems and suggest some easy things at first that she can do for her baby. The program will be tested for three years to see how well it succeeds.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Gwen Outen.

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