Developing Biopsychosocial Research on Maternal Mental Health in Malawi: Community Perspectives and Concerns

Ethics Hum Res. 2021 Jul;43(4):11-19. doi: 10.1002/eahr.500095.


Interest in maternal mental health research is growing around the world. Maternal mental health research studies in Malawi have, for instance, sought to determine and establish the incidence and prevalence of depression and anxiety in pregnant people and the factors that contribute to experiences of these states. This article reports stakeholder perspectives on potential community concerns with biopsychosocial mental health research (which might include collecting blood samples) in Malawi. These perspectives were generated through a town hall event that featured five focus group discussions with various participants. In this article, we reflect on key themes from these discussions, demonstrating the endurance of long-standing concerns and practices around autonomy, consent, and the drawing of blood. We conclude by arguing that, while maternal mental health research conducted in Malawi could benefit Malawian women and children, consultation with community stakeholders is necessary to inform whether and how such research should be conducted.

Keywords: Malawi; autonomy, consent; community engagement; human research ethics; maternal mental health.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Mental Health*
  • Pregnancy