Hunger Affects The Mental Health Of Pregnant Mothers

By Simone Honikman

Young-Pregnant-Black-Woman

The mental health of pregnant women can be affected by a range of factors, including partner violence and unemployment. But one of the key drivers that adversely affects a pregnant woman’s mental health is food insecurity. Being food insecure is when someone doesn’t have food or has the wrong kinds of food.

This is one of the key findings of our study, conducted in an impoverished community in Cape Town which is also regarded as one of the most violent in South Africa.

We set out to explore the factors that affected common mental health problems in pregnant women. These included intimate partner violence, unemployment and food insecurity. We found that women who don’t get enough to eat when they are pregnant face a high risk of developing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after giving birth. And they are likely to have suicidal thoughts during this time too.

Several studies have analysed antenatal depression and shown that there are higher rates of depression among mothers-to-be in low socio-economic settings.

The South African Government provides social grants to mothers who meet certain low-income criteria after the birth of their babies. But, based on our findings, we would argue that women should be eligible for poverty alleviation support while they are pregnant. This would benefit them physically and emotionally. Research from a range of developing countries shows that providing pregnancy support grants benefits mothers and their children.

Based on these findings, and our own research, our view is that mental well-being and food security policies should be rolled out together as part of an antenatal care package for women. This is important because managing the mental health of mothers’ can help children develop better.

Pressures Of Poverty 

In South Africa more than 40% of the population lives below the poverty line. This means that many families in poor communities don’t have enough to eat, or don’t have access to healthy food.

Often the food they buy doesn’t last the entire month which means that they skip meals or eat less food because there isn’t money for more. Recent statistics show that two in every ten South African families run out of money for food before the end of the month.

Hanover Park has high rates of unemployment, alcohol and substance abuse, physical and sexual violence, child abuse and neglect.

Our research found that almost half the pregnant women attending the Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit were food insecure.

In the group of nearly 400 pregnant women, about 22% were depressed while 23% had an anxiety disorder; about 10% of women had both common mental disorders. Moderate to high risk levels of suicidal thoughts or behaviours were present in 18%. Being food insecure more than doubled the chance of a pregnant women developing depression or an anxiety disorder and was very strongly associated with previously having attempted suicide.

Source: allafrica.com

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