Pregnancy loss linked to depression in young men

Young men whose partners experienced abortion or miscarriage were twice as likely to have depression than men who reported their partner had never been pregnant. Flickr/Jason Pier in DC

Young men whose partners have had an abortion or miscarriage are twice as likely to develop depression than those whose partners have never been pregnant, a new study has found.

While previous studies have linked pregnancy loss to mental health problems in women, few researchers have examined the impacts on men.

To investigate the associations, researchers from the University of Queensland drew on data on 2382 young people born between 1981 and 1984 at Mater Hospital in Brisbane. Of the cohort, 49% were male.

By interviewing the young people after they turned 21, the researchers found that 30% of the women and 14% of the men had experienced pregnancy loss (either abortion or miscarriage).

Those men whose partners had experienced pregnancy loss were:

  • 60% more likely to have an alcohol abuse problem than men who reported their partner had never experienced a pregnancy.
  • 80% more likely to have a cannabis abuse problem than men who reported their partner had never experienced a pregnancy.
  • 70% more likely to have an illicit drug (such as heroin or methamphetamines) abuse problem than men who reported their partner had never experienced a pregnancy.
  • Twice as likely to have depression than men who reported their partner had never experienced a pregnancy.

Those men whose partners had had miscarriages were three times as likely to suffer from anxiety than men whose partners had never experienced a pregnancy.

Lead researcher, Dr Kaeleen Dingle from UQ’s School of Pharmacy, said that the research was not suggesting that pregnancy loss caused the mental health problems.

“At the moment, it’s just an association. It points to being a real association, but we can’t say it’s causal,” she said.

The findings may be due to some unmeasured factors related to early pregnancy and not specifically pregnancy loss, she said.

“The message is that some people don’t do well after pregnancy loss and it may be a key feature of their mental health problem. GPs and mental health workers need to be aware of it. I think women need continued access to safe and legal abortion.”

Dr Dingle said follow-up interviews with the subjects were planned for when they were 30 years old.

Dr Dingle presented her findings at the World Congress of Asian Psychiatry underway this week in Melbourne.

The research is yet to be peer reviewed, she said, but will undergo that process when it is submitted to journals for publication soon.

The findings were interesting but care must be taken with their interpretation, said Associate Professor Angela Taft from La Trobe University’s Mother and Child Health Research unit.

“It’s an interesting finding indeed but one needs to be careful not to make the wrong assumption that the symptoms associated with those men don’t precede the pregnancy loss rather than occur afterwards,” said Dr Taft, who was not involved in this study but has researched the links between abortion and mental health in the past.