Pre- and postnatal psychological wellbeing in Africa: a systematic review

J Affect Disord. 2010 Jun;123(1-3):17-29. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2009.06.027. Epub 2009 Jul 26.


Background: Perinatal mental health disorders are recognised as an important public health issue in low-income countries as well as in developed countries. This paper reviews evidence on the prevalence and risk factors of maternal mental health disorders in African women living in Africa.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was conducted. Studies were mainly located through computerised databases, and additionally through hand searching references of identified articles and reviews. Thirty-five studies, with a total of 10,880 participants, were identified that reported prevalence rates of maternal psychological health in eight African countries.

Results: Depression was the most commonly assessed disorder with a weighted mean prevalence of 11.3% (95% CI 9.5%-13.1%) during pregnancy and 18.3% (95% CI 17.6%-19.1%) after birth. Only a small number of studies assessed other psychological disorders. Prevalence rates of pre- and postnatal anxiety were 14.8% (95% CI 12.3%-17.4%) and 14.0% (95% CI 12.9%-15.2%), respectively; and one study reported the prevalence of PTSD as 5.9% (95% CI 4.4%-7.4%) following childbirth. Lack of support and marital/family conflict were associated with poorer mental health. Evidence relating sociodemographic and obstetric variables to mental health was inconclusive.

Limitations: Most studies included in this review were cross-sectional and measures of mental health varied considerably.

Conclusions: This paper demonstrates that maternal mental health disorders are prevalent in African women, and highlights the importance of maternal mental health care being integrated into future maternal and infant health policies in African countries.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / ethnology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression, Postpartum / diagnosis
  • Depression, Postpartum / epidemiology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / ethnology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / ethnology*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Developing Countries*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Mass Screening
  • Personality Inventory
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / ethnology*
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / ethnology*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology