May 2024

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Health Capsule

Benefits of Counseling During Pregnancy

Pregnant women who have anxiety before childbirth are at increased risk for mental health concerns after the baby is born. Anxiety during pregnancy is more common in areas where mental health resources are scarce. A recent study showed that counseling given by non-specialists could help.

The study enrolled more than 750 pregnant women in Pakistan. All the women had symptoms of anxiety but not depression at the start. About half received routine medical care. The rest received at least six counseling sessions designed to treat anxiety. The counselors had college-level degrees in psychology but no clinical experience. The sessions taught women to replace anxious thoughts with helpful thoughts and behaviors.

By six weeks after childbirth, only 9% of the women who received counseling had moderate-to-severe anxiety. This compares to 27% in the routine care group. And only 12% of women who got counseling had an episode of major depression. In contrast, 41% in the other group had a depressive episode.

“In low-resource settings, it can be challenging for women to access mental health care due to a global shortage of trained mental health specialists,” says Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, director of NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. “This study shows that non-specialists could help to fill this gap, providing care to more women during this critical period.”