Female Immigrants' Depression Risk Increased by Americanization

by Rajashri on Aug 14 2008 3:07 PM

A new study on US and Mexican-born Latinas seeking pregnancy and postpartum services in Texas has found that women who are more Americanized face a greater depression risk.

Lead author Marivel Davila said that "Americanization" or acculturation is the process by which immigrants adopt the lifestyle and customs of their host nation, and key indicators include preferred language and place of birth.

Conducted by researchers from The University of Texas School of Public Health and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the study was conducted on 439 Latinas of whom 318 participants were born in Mexico, 121 were born in the United States.

All the women were interviewed in eight family planning clinics and six prenatal clinics of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD) between May and August of 2003. They were given the choice of conducting the interview in English or Spanish.

The researchers observed elevated levels of depression in the women born in the United States, as well as those who asked to conduct their interviews in English.

They associated two non-acculturation variables with elevated depression - being single and being pregnant.

"Screening for depression during pregnancy is important for this population group, given Latinas' high rates of fertility and births to single women, particularly among more acculturated U.S.- born Latinas," write the authors.

She added: "The sample for this study was a low-income population. Our conclusions may or may not be different for women in other socioeconomic status (SES) groups. Hence, more research needs to be conducted among Latinas from differing SES groups, including research focusing on the role of social support and cultural values/beliefs related to childbirth and pregnancy among Latinas."

"The higher prevalence rate of depression in Americanized Latina women is of concern in our community as the population demographics clearly indicate a significant rate of growth of this group in their childbearing years," said Fernando A. Guerra, M.D., director of health for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

He added: "Thus, it is important to more clearly understand the circumstances that affect their physical and emotional well-being during pregnancy so that preventive measures can be initiated. This is critical for the overall health of both the mother and child."

Women in the study were screened for depressive symptoms using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies - Depression (CES-D) Scale, a 20-item, questionnaire designed to gauge the level of depressive symptoms over the previous week. Women with a score of 21 or greater were classified as having elevated depressive symptoms.

"Women who were US-born were significantly more likely than Mexican-born women to meet the cutoff score (21 on the CES-D scale). Women who conducted their interview in English were significantly more likely to express depressive symptoms compared to women who conducted their interview in Spanish," wrote the authors.

According to Davila, symptoms of depression may include: emotional stress, helplessness, irritability and anger. Symptoms specific to the pregnancy and postpartum period can include overly intense worries about the baby, and a lack of interest or fear of harming the baby.

The study is published in the most recent online issue of the Maternal and Child Health Journal.