Black Women Show Heightened Risk for Depression After Early Pregnancy Loss

Heidi Splete

January 12, 2021

Black women are significantly more likely than non-Black women to develop major depression within a month of early pregnancy loss, based on data from a secondary analysis of 300 women.

Black women are significantly more likely than non-Black women to develop major depression within a month of early pregnancy loss, based on data from a secondary analysis of 300 women.

"Based on data showing higher rates of pregnancy loss, perinatal depression, and perceived stress in Black women, we hypothesized that the odds of having risk for major depression or high perceived stress 30 days after miscarriage treatment would be higher in Black participants when compared with non-Black participants," they wrote.

In a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the researchers conducted a secondary analysis of 300 women aged 18 years and older with nonviable intrauterine pregnancy between 5 and 12 weeks' gestation who were part of a larger randomized trial conducted between May 2014 and April 2017. The women were randomized to medical treatment of either mifepristone 200 mg orally plus misoprostol 800 mcg vaginally after 24 hours or the usual treatment of misoprostol 800 mcg vaginally.

Depression was assessed using the Center for Epidemiological Studies–Depression scale, Perceived Stress Scale, and Adverse Childhood Experience scale. Adverse childhood experience data were collected at baseline; stress and depression data were collected at baseline and at 30 days after treatment.

A total of 120 participants self-identified as Black and 155 self-identified as non-Black.

Depression Risk Doubles in Black Women

At 30 days after treatment for early pregnancy loss, 24% of women met criteria for major depression, including 57% of Black women and 43% of non-Black women. The odds of depression were twice as high among Black women, compared with non-Black women (odds ratio 2.02), and Black women were more likely to be younger, have lower levels of education, and have public insurance, compared with non-Black women.

The association between Black race and increased risk for depression at 30 days after treatment persisted after controlling for factors including parity, baseline depression, and adverse childhood experiences, the researchers noted.

The study findings were limited by several factors, including the potential for different depression risk in those from the original study who did and did not participate in the secondary analysis and by the use of the original Adverse Childhood Experience survey, which may not reflect the range of adversity faced by different demographic groups, the researchers noted. However, the results were strengthened by the collection of 30-day outcome data in the clinical setting and by the diverse study population.

"These findings should be not be used to stigmatize Black women; instead, it is important to consider the complex systemic factors, such as structural racism, that are the root causes of disparate health outcomes," and to support appropriate mental health resources and interventions for all women who experience early pregnancy loss, the researchers emphasized.

Recognize Risks, Reduce Barriers

"Early pregnancy loss is unfortunately a common event that affects 15%-20% of pregnancies," Iris Krishna, MD, of Emory University, Atlanta, said in an interview.

However, "the mental health impact of early pregnancy loss is understudied, and as a result mental health disorders often go unnoticed and untreated," she said.

Growing evidence shows that Black women in particular are at greater risk for chronic stressors that affect their overall health. "Black women are more likely to be exposed to trauma in their lifetime, such as physical and emotional abuse, neglect, and household instability, all of which predispose women to mental health disorders such as depression. Untreated maternal depression has an impact on future pregnancy outcomes such as increasing the risk of having a preterm delivery and/or delivering a low-birth-weight baby, outcomes where Black women are at disproportionately high risk in comparison to non-Black women," Krishna said.

"This study found that the risk for depression after an early pregnancy loss is twice as high for Black women in comparison to non-Black women. The findings of this study further underscore the fact that Black women are at disproportionate high risk for poor maternal and pregnancy outcomes," Krishna added.

"Structural racism is a major barrier to caring for the health of Black women. To care for the health of Black women we must overcome racial and ethnic disparities. Addressing disparities involves a multitiered approach, including identifying and addressing implicit bias in health care and improving access to health care for women of color," she said.

"Additional research is needed in identifying at-risk women and mental health interventions that can improve the mental well-being of women after adverse pregnancy outcomes such as early pregnancy loss," Krishna concluded.

The study was supported by the Society of Family Planning Research Fund. Lead author Shorter had no financial conflicts to disclose. Krishna had no financial conflicts to disclose.

SOURCE: Shorter JM et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Dec 3. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000004212.

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