Psychological Medicine

The Leicester 500 Project. Social support and the development of postnatal depressive symptoms, a prospective cohort survey

T. S. BRUGHA a1c1, H. M. SHARP a1, S.-A. COOPER a1, C. WEISENDER a1, D. BRITTO a1, R. SHINKWIN a1, T. SHERRIF a1 and P. H. KIRWAN a1
a1 From the Department of Psychiatry, University of Leicester


Background. A prospective epidemiology study evaluated the role of specific social and psychological variables in the prediction of depressive symptomatology and disorders following childbirth in a community sample. Measures of social support used previously in clinically depressed populations facilitated further comparison.

Methods. Nulliparous pregnant women (N=507) were interviewed during pregnancy with the Interview Measure of Social Relationships (IMSR) and a contextual assessment of pregnancy-related support and adversity and 427 were followed up at 3 months postpartum with the 30-item GHQ, including six depression items. To establish the clinical representativeness of the GHQ, high GHQ scorers and a random subsample of low scorers were interviewed using the SCAN. Regression models were developed using the GHQ Depression scale (GHQ-D), the IMSR and other risk factor data.

Results. GHQ-D after childbirth was predicted by lack of perceived support from members of the woman's primary group and lack of support in relation to the event becoming pregnant; this held even after controlling for antenatal depression, neuroticism, family and personal psychiatric history and adversity. Informant-rated deficits in provision of social support also predicted later depression. The size of the primary social network group previously found to be related to depression in women, did not predict depressive symptom development.

Conclusion. Predictors of depressive symptom development differ from predictors of recovery from clinical depression in women. Interventions should be designed to reduce specific deficits in social support observed in particular study populations.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Traolach S. Brugha, Department of Psychiatry, Robert Kilpatrick Clinical Sciences Building, Leicester Royal Infirmary, PO Box 65, Leicester LE2 7LX.