Forty percent of women who suffer depression after childbirth are abused either physically or emotionally by their partners, researchers in Australia said on Wednesday, calling on health workers to be more alert to such cases.
"That is a very important message to get out to health professionals," said Hannah Woolhouse at Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Victoria, Australia.
"If they are working with women with post-natal depression, they should consider the possibility that partner violence may be contributing to that."
Possible solutions included offering treatment to the abusive partner, counseling for such couples, or even shelter for abused women, she said in a telephone interview.
In their study of 1,305 first-time mothers, Woolhouse and colleagues found that 210, or 16 percent, reported depression in the 12 months following delivery.
" Around 40 percent of women reporting depressive symptoms also reported intimate partner violence," the researchers wrote in the paper published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
After taking into account other possible reasons such as age and unemployment, the risk of experiencing post-natal depression was three times higher for women who suffered emotional abuse compared with women who did not suffer any abuse, they said.
The risk was four times higher for those who experienced physical abuse.
"Emotional abuse is a lot more common than physical abuse ... and it is just as damaging," said Woolhouse.
The study also found that most women first reported depression more than six months after delivery.
"In Australia and the UK, screening for depression takes place in the first few months after delivery so they are likely to miss maybe over half of the cases of depression," Woolhouse said.
"We would be recommending that professionals regularly enquire about women's mental and emotional wellbeing."