Mood-Altering Behaviors

Pregnant, poor, and HIV-positive is often a recipe for (untreated) depression

BY Neal Broverman

October 09 2012 7:00 AM ET

Even though low-income HIV-positive pregnant women are prone to depression, many are not seeking help for the potentially fatal mental illness. Medicaid, the government health program aimed primarily at low-income pregnant women, parents, children, and disabled adults, provides mental health services, but often the people who need them the most are not utilizing them. That’s what researchers at the University of Michigan and Ohio State University found recently when they gathered information on 650 pregnant HIV-positive women on Medicaid. Only 28% of the women were being treated for depression, though the researchers believe many more are suffering from it, especially African-American women.

Previous studies show black women are less likely to seek treatment or report symptoms of depression; a higher percentage of African-American women also report general mistrust of doctors.

“We need to work with health advocates in the African-American community to identify interventions and approaches toward solving this grave issue,” University of Michigan College of Pharmacy associate professor Rajesh Balkrishnan says, adding that depression can lead to substance abuse or suicide. Balkrishnan and his fellow researchers are urging Medicaid doctors to screen all HIV-positive pregnant women for depression instead of simply relying on their patients to inform them they’re suffering from symptoms.

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