Importance: Pregnancy may increase the risk of depression among women who self-identify as refugees and have resettled in high-income countries. To our knowledge, no large systematic studies among women with refugee backgrounds in the antenatal period have been conducted.
Objectives: To compare the prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD), trauma exposure, and other psychosocial risk factors among women who identify as refugees, women from the same conflict-affected countries, and women from the host nation and to test whether self-identification as a refugee indicates greater likelihood of prevalence and risk.
Design, Setting, and Participants: This cross-sectional study was undertaken in 3 public antenatal clinics in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, between January 2015 and December 2016. Overall, 1335 women (685 consecutively enrolled from conflict-affected backgrounds and 650 randomly selected from the host nation) participated. Data analysis was undertaken between June and September 2018.
Exposures: One-hour interviews covering mental health, intimate partner violence, and other social measures.
Main Outcome and Measures: World Health Organization measure for intimate partner violence and the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition) for MDD. To make a diagnosis, 1 of 2 items relating to being consistently depressed for 2 weeks and 3 further symptoms that cause personal distress or psychosocial dysfunction were endorsed.
Results: Overall, 1335 women (84.8% overall response rate), comprising 685 (51.3%) from conflict-affected countries (women self-identifying as refugees: 289 [42.2%]) and 650 (48.7%) from the host nation, participated. The mean (SD) age was 29.7 (5.4) years among women from conflict-affected backgrounds and 29.0 (5.5) years among women born in the host nation. Conflict-affected countries included Iraq (260 [38.0%]), Lebanon (125 [18.2%]), Sri Lanka (71 [10.4%]), and Sudan (66 [9.6%]). Women who identified as refugees reported higher exposure to 2 to 3 (67 [23.2%]) and 4 or more (19 [6.6%]) general traumatic events compared with women from the host nation (103 [15.8%] and 21 [3.2%], respectively). Women who identified as refugees also reported higher exposure to 1 (147 [50.9%]) and 2 or more (97 [33.6%]) refugee-related traumatic events compared with women from the host nation (86 [13.2%] and 20 [3.1%], respectively). Women who identified as refugees reported higher rates of psychological intimate partner violence than women born in the host nation (124 [42.9%] vs 133 [20.5%]; P<.001). Women who identified as refugees were less likely to identify 5 or more supportive family or friends compared with women born in the host nation (36 [12.5%] vs 297 [45.7%]; P<.001). A greater proportion of women who identified as refugees reported experiencing 3 or more financial stressors compared with women born in the host nation (65 [22.5%] vs 41 [6.3%]; P<.001). Women who identified as refugees had the highest prevalence of MDD (94 [32.5%]), followed by women from other conflict-affected backgrounds (78 [19.7%]), and women born in the host nation (94 [14.5%]).
Conclusion and Relevance: Women identifying as refugees reported a higher prevalence of MDD and all the indicators of adversity related to that disorder. Even after risk factors were accounted for, refugee status was associated with risk of MDD. Assessing whether women attending an antenatal clinic self-identify as refugees may offer an important indicator of risk of MDD and a range of associated psychosocial adversities.