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Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 1–14 | Cite as

Human and economic resources for empowerment and pregnancy-related mental health in the Arab Middle East: a systematic review

  • Laurie James-Hawkins
  • Eman Shaltout
  • Aasli Abdi Nur
  • Catherine Nasrallah
  • Yara Qutteina
  • Hanan F. Abdul Rahim
  • Monique Hennink
  • Kathryn M. YountEmail author
Open Access
Review Article

Abstract

This systematic review synthesizes research on the influence of human and economic resources for women’s empowerment on their pre- and postnatal mental health, understudied in the Arab world. We include articles using quantitative methods from PubMed and Web of Science. Two researchers reviewed databases and selected articles, double reviewing 5% of articles designated for inclusion. Twenty-four articles met inclusion criteria. All 24 articles measured depression as an outcome, and three included additional mental health outcomes. Nine of 17 studies found an inverse association between education and depression; two of 12 studies found contradictory associations between employment and depression, and four of six studies found a positive association between financial stress and depression. These results suggest that there is a negative association between education and depression and a positive association between financial stress and depression among women in the Arab world. Firm conclusions warrant caution due to limited studies meeting inclusion criteria and large heterogeneity in mental health scales used, assessment measures, and definitions of human and economic resources for women’s empowerment. It is likely that education reduces depression among postpartum women and that financial stress increases their depression. These findings can be used to aid in the design of interventions to improve mother and child outcomes. However, more research in the Arab world is needed on the relationship between human and economic resources for women’s empowerment and perinatal mental health, and more consistency is needed in how resources and mental health are measured.

Keywords

Systematic review Depression Mental health Pregnancy Middle East Women’s empowerment 

Mental health is one of the most neglected public health issues in the Arab world (Haque et al., 2015; Rezaeian, 2010), where there is generally a dearth of rigorous research on mental health conditions among women (Rezaeian, 2010). Medical and public health professionals are concerned about women’s mental health in the perinatal period because common psychiatric disorders, including depression, are more likely to occur then (Satyanarayana et al., 2011). Depression is the most frequently occurring mental health condition among women of childbearing age in low- and middle-income countries (Parsons et al., 2012). Negative consequences have been found for mother and child, including impairments in mother-child interactions and emotional and cognitive disruption of infant development (Haque et al., 2015; Parsons et al., 2012). Poor mental health outcomes among Arab women have been associated with strong patriarchal cultures, which limit opportunities and autonomy for women (Yount and Smith 2012; Yount et al. 2014; Shaikh et al. 2017; Douki et al., 2007).

Women’s empowerment is a critical component of mental health. Thus, women’s empowerment includes the ability or agency to make choices and gain control over available resources to affect better outcomes in their lives (Yount et al. 2015; Campbell and Mannell, 2016; Kabeer, 1999). Resources for empowerment are generally considered to consist of three main categories: (1) financial or economic resources (income, employment, or assets); (2) human resources (education or learned skills); and (3) social resources (social support from family or others; Kabeer, 1999). Gender gaps in mental health may arise from reduced opportunities, status, resources, or power for women in the Arab world (Yount et al. 2014; Hill and Needham, 2013). Thus, human and economic resources for empowerment may influence women’s mental health during and immediately after pregnancy and especially strongly in settings in which women’s access to these resources is constrained (Bener, 2013). Economic resources have been shown to influence women’s empowerment in that they provide the means to exert control over her life by generating income (Kabeer et al., 2013) or increasing her bargaining ability within the home (Kabeer, 2016). Human resources, such as education, are entwined with economic resources in that education and other learned skills can provide the means for women to gain economic resources (Kabeer et al., 2013), often through employment (Hanmer and Klugman, 2016; Kabeer, 2016). Education may also provide women with raised awareness of their own rights and entitlements and allow them to have greater influence over how resources are distributed within the household (Kabeer, 2016).

Researchers have identified possible human and economic risk factors for depression during pregnancy and after delivery (Farr et al., 2014; Scheyer and Urizar Jr., 2016). Those risk factors include low levels of education among women (Fall et al., 2013; Miyake et al., 2012), personal income that is too low to meet basic needs or other financial difficulties (Lancaster et al., 2010; Scheyer and Urizar Jr., 2016), and a lack of engagement in the workforce (Fall et al., 2013; Miyake et al., 2012). While other risk factors such as intimate partner violence and life stressors (Lancaster et al., 2010) have been studied, less attention has been paid to the influence of human and economic resources for women’s empowerment on prenatal and postpartum mental health. Therefore, there is a need for a synthesis of existing research to aid in the design of interventions to improve mother and child outcomes.

In the Arab world, the issues affecting women’s mental health are diverse, reflecting the socioeconomic and cultural diversity of the region. National population policies have tended to focus on family planning services and the reduction of total fertility, rather than the scope and quality of antenatal and postnatal care services (Kronfol, 2012). A recent review of barriers to health care in the Arab world found mental health services to be especially limited in scope, accessibility, and affordability within the public sector (Kronfol, 2012). Women’s empowerment as an influence on mental health is especially important in the Arab world because of well-documented constraints on women’s agency (Kandiyoti, 1988), including reproductive agency or freedom, such as deciding if and when to have a child (Eyadat, 2013). Worldwide, reproductive health services have marginalized mental health (World Health et al., 2009). This is especially true of the Arab world, where mental health services are often inadequate and mental illness is stigmatized (Sewilam et al., 2015). Health providers and policy-makers are just beginning to recognize mental health conditions as contributors to the overall disease burden (Rashad, 2014).

Research on the prevalence of perinatal depressive symptoms, specifically, in the Arab world is scarce, although the onset of new cases of depressive symptoms is most common during the prenatal period (Fuggle et al., 2002). Approximately 10% of women worldwide experience some negative mental health condition during pregnancy, including depressive symptoms (World Health Organization, n.d.). Women who are new mothers also are at higher risk of poor mental health outcomes in general, with 10–15% experiencing postpartum depressive symptoms specifically (Haque et al., 2015; World Health Organization, n.d.). Existing studies, however, have shown that Arab women, living in Arab countries, typically experience higher rates of postpartum depressive symptoms compared to women in other world regions (Chaaya et al., 2002; Green et al., 2006). Given the lack of existing literature on maternal mental health and the known adverse health outcomes for mother and child, there is a clear need for further study on the prevalence of prenatal and postnatal depressive symptoms in the Arab world. This article systematically reviews all studies in the Arab world examining the influence of women’s human or economic resources for empowerment on their mental health in the prenatal and postnatal periods.

Methods

Search terms, databases, and search strategies

We used Cochrane Review guidelines (Higgins and Green, 2008) to conduct our literature search. Search terms were identified, piloted, and revised in PubMed and Web of Science databases. Searches were conducted to capture all articles published up to April 1, 2016, the date of the final search conducted. The full search string used to identify potentially relevant articles in each database (Table 1) covered four domains: (1) human and economic resources for women’s empowerment, (2) geographical region, (3) pregnancy/postpartum, and (4) mental health outcomes. The search criteria included peer-reviewed articles in English, French, or Arabic. A title and abstract review was conducted against the inclusion criteria, followed by a full-text review of relevant articles. An ancestry search of references sections was conducted for included articles, and each article’s first/corresponding author was contacted to identify relevant articles in the gray literature.
Table 1

Search terms for identifying studies of the effect of human and economic resources for women’s empowerment on mental health during pregnancy in the Arab Middle East

Human and economic resources

 

Pregnancy

 

Arab Middle East

 

Mental health outcomes

Resources

Material Resources

 

Pregnancy

 

Algeria

  

Access

 

Natal

 

Bahrain

  

Ownership

 

Prenatal

 

Comoros

  

Expenses

 

Perinatal

 

Djibouti

  

Expenditures

 

Postnatal

 

Egypt

  

Assets

 

Gestation

 

Iraq

  

Wealth

 

Expecting

 

Jordan

  

Possession

 

Mother

 

KSA

  

Welfare

 

Pregnant

 

Kuwait

  

Economic Security

 

Parity

 

Lebanon

  

Savings

 

Gravidity

 

Libya

  

Employ*

 

Antenatal

 

Mauritania

 

Health

Income

 

Labor

 

Morocco

 

Psychological Well-Being

Occupation

 

Birth

 

Oman

 

Mental Well-Being

Socioeconomic Status

AND

Childbirth

AND

Qatar

AND

Mental Illness

Financ*

 

Matern*

 

Saudi Arabia

 

Depression

Residence

 

Neonatal

 

Somalia

 

Depressive Symptoms

Women’s Agency

 

Fetal

 

Sudan

 

Anxiety

Agency

 

Baby

 

Syria

 

Stress

Women’s Empowerment

 

Delivery

 

Tunisia

  

Empowerment

 

Child Bearing

 

UAE

  

Women’s Decision-making

 

Parturient

 

United Arab Emirates

  

Decision-making

 

Obstetric Care

 

West Bank

  

Women’s Mobility

 

Cesarean Section

 

Gaze

  

Mobility

 

With Child

 

Palestine

  

Women’s Autonomy

 

Enceinte

 

Yemen

  

Women’s Freedom of Movement

 

Conception

 

Middle East

  

Freedom of Movement

 

Impregnate

 

Arab World

  

Gender Equality

 

Conceive

 

MENA

  

Women’s Status

   

North Africa

  

Status

Selection of studies

Our inclusion and exclusion criteria were established a priori and refined during an extensive pilot phase (Table 2). We excluded studies if neither human nor economic resources were included, if the study population did not consist of Arab pregnant or postpartum women living in an Arab country, or if no mental health outcome was measured.1 We defined the postpartum period as up to 1 year after birth (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2017). We were interested in the relationship between human and economic resources for empowerment and perinatal mental health in women experiencing a “typical” pregnancy and as such included mental health outcomes that were defined as “normal” by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Psychiatric disorders (DSM) such as depression and anxiety. We excluded studies including only women who experienced life-threatening conditions or extreme psychopathology defined as mental health problems or psychological stressors that are classified as “abnormal” by the DSM such as schizophrenia. Systematic reviews and studies using qualitative methods also were excluded. All studies published before March 2016 were included.
Table 2

Final inclusion and exclusion criteria

Criteria

Included

Excluded

Rationale

Sampling method

Population-based, and clinic-based except those admitted for psychopathology or serious pregnancy complications

Convenience-based, clinic-based if sample admitted for psychopathology or serious pregnancy complications

The study aims to understand the effect of empowerment on common pregnancy-related mental health outcomes, rather than mental health complicated by medical concerns or psychiatric disorders (e.g., schizophrenia or mania).

Analysis

Bivariate analysis; quantitative analysis

Anything less than bivariate analysis; qualitative analysis

Bivariate analysis is included as a minimum in order to understand the complex relationship between dimensions of empowerment and mental health in pregnancy.

Date

All dates were included

No elimination based on date

Studies based in any time period would contribute to the objectives of this study. Given the limited research available on mental health among pregnant women within the geographic region of interest, articles were not excluded based on the date of publication.

Geographic region

Arab world (as defined by the Arab League and World Bank)

Non-Arab countries; Arab populations outside Arab countries (e.g., refugees)

The focus of this review is on perinatal mental health in women from Arab countries, as these countries have seen a dramatic improvement in maternal health and child survival over the past few decades as a result of better living standards and improvements in health care services.

Population of interest

Arab pregnant women and/or women in the perinatal period (22 weeks of gestation to 7 days after birth; WHO, 2016) and postnatal period (up to 1 year after the birth of a child).

More than 1 year after the birth of a child

The period of time specified represents the focus of interest for the purposes of the review.

Outcome variable

Mental and psychological health or well-being; depressive symptoms; anxiety symptoms; perceived psychological stressors

Psychopathology and/or psychiatric disorders

This review is concerned with common mental health problems/psychological stresso rs that are not classified as “abnormal” by the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Psychiat ric disorders (DSM; “abnormal” mental health problems include problems such as sch izophrenia or bipolar disorder), and symptoms that have not progressed to mental diso rders (e.g., we are looking at anxiety symptoms not generalized anxiety disorder).

Exposure variable

Agency and/or resources for empowerment (or disempowerment; e.g., domestic violence)

Any items that did not fall within the conceptual framework of empowerment outlined by Kabeer (1999)

The definition of empowerment used in this review is based on Kabeer’s (1999) frame work, which includes resources and agency. Different terms were also used to describ e these analogous constructs (e.g. decision-making or wealth).

Language

English, Arabic, and French

All other languages unless translation was provided

Majority of the published literature in this field is in English. Some studies conducted in Tunisia and Morocco were published in French journals and were reviewed by French speaking researchers.

Peer reviewed

Peer reviewed

Non-peer reviewed

The use of peer-reviewed articles reflects this review’s focus on using the highest-quality research .

Data extraction and analysis

A total of 2407 articles were identified and screened for further review based on the titles and abstracts (Fig. 1). We excluded 2347 articles because they did not address the constructs or population of interest. The remaining 60 articles underwent a full-text review by one of three researchers (ES, AN, CN) resulting in 20 articles that met all inclusion criteria. Articles were excluded if they did not contain a measure of human or economic resources or if those measures were not used in an analysis with mental health as the outcome. Reference and key author searches identified five additional articles. Four met final inclusion criteria after a full-text review, for a total of 24 included articles. The Cochrane Review data extraction form was adapted for use with cross-sectional and observational studies (Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, 2013). Five percent of included articles underwent a second review for data extraction to ensure consistency.
Fig. 1

Steps in the search, screening, and selection of studies

Assessment of study quality and validity

We used the STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational Studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) checklist to assess study quality (Von Elm et al., 2007). The STROBE checklist uses 22 criteria, so each article was assigned a score between 1 and 22. Articles were rated on quality by one researcher (LJH). Articles with scores of 14 or below were designated as “low quality,” scores between 15 and 17 were “medium quality,” and scores of 18 and above were “high quality” (James-Hawkins et al. 2016; Table 3). A sub-sample of articles were double scored by a second researcher (YQ) for consistency. The lowest quality articles generally did not define outcomes and exposures adequately, explain how variables were handled in the analysis, report sample attrition, discuss potential sources of bias, explain missing data adequately, provide their source of funding, or discuss generalizability of their results. Medium-quality articles generally did not address potential bias, explain missing data, or provide their funding source. High-quality studies generally did not explain how missing data were addressed.
Table 3

Characteristics of included studies (N = 24)

Author

Year

Sample type

Sample design

Pregnancy/postpartum period

N

Country

Study Quality

Abdelhai and Mosleh

2015

Probability sample

Systematic sampling

First trimester/second trimester/third trimester

376

Egypt

16 Medium

Abuidhail and Abujilban

2014

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Third trimester

218

Jordan

12 Low

Abujilban et al.

2014

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Third trimester

218

Jordan

15 Medium

Agoub, Moussaoui, and Battas

2005

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

144

Morocco

12 Low

Al-Azri et al.

2016

Probability sample

Systematic sampling

First trimester/second trimester/third trimester

959

Oman

16 Medium

Al Dallal and Grant

2012

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

237

Bahrain

14 Medium

Alharbi and Abdulghani

2014

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

352

Saudi Arabia

14 Medium

Al Hanai and Al Hanai

2014

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

282

Oman

12 Low

Bener

2013

Probability sample

Systematic sampling

Postpartum

1659

Qatar

16 Medium

Bener, Burgut et al.

2012

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

1379

Qatar

17 Medium

Bener, Gerber, and Sheikh

2012

Probability sample

Systematic sampling

Postpartum

1659

Qatar

19 Medium

Burgut, Bener, Ghuloum, and Sheikh

2013

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

1379

Qatar

16 Medium

Chaaya et al.

2002

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

396

Lebanon

17 Medium

El-Khoury, Karam, and Melham

1999

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

150

Lebanon

15 Medium

Green, Broome, and Mirabella

2006

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

125

United Arab Emirates

15 Medium

Hamdan and Tamim

2011

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Second trimester/third trimester/postpartum

137

United Arab Emirates

19 High

Khabour et al.

2013

Probability sample

Stratified Sampling

Postpartum

370

Jordan

16 Medium

Lteif, Kesrouani, and Richa

2005

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

First trimester, second trimester, third trimester

79

Lebanon

16 Medium

Masmoudi et al.

2014

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

213

Tunisia

17 Medium

Masmoudi et al.

2010

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

301

Tunisia

16 Medium

Masmoudi et al.

2008

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

213

Tunisia

15 Medium

McHichi Alami, Kadri, and Berrada

2006

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

First trimester/second trimester/third trimester/postpartum

100

Morocco

10 Low

Mohammad et al.

2011

Non-probability sample

Convenience sampling

First trimester/second trimester/third trimester/postpartum

353

Jordan

15 Medium

Moh’d Yehia, Callister, and Hamdan-Mansour

2013

Non-probability Sample

Convenience sampling

Postpartum

300

Jordan

17 Medium

All studies used primary data collection and were clinic based

We assessed each study for bias in terms of selection, measurement error, statistical analysis, and confounders using a previously adapted tool (Yount and Smith 2012). One reviewer (LJH) classified each study as low, medium, or high risk for each category. We evaluated selection bias based on sampling design and response rates. Non-probability samples were considered high risk and probability samples were considered low risk. Response rates of 80% or higher were low risk, 60–80% were moderate risk, and below 60% or an unreported response rate was considered high risk. If a study was low in one and moderate or high in the other, it was classified as moderate risk. We assessed measurement error based on reporting of measures of internal consistency (e.g., Cronbach’s alpha or similar). Measurement error was rated as low risk if the study authors addressed the reliability of all key measure(s) (mental health, and human/economic resources), moderate risk if they addressed reliability of mental health or resources, and high risk if reliability of neither was addressed. Statistical analysis bias was assessed based on statistical tests used. Studies with clear descriptions of the analysis plan and statistical tests used were low risk. Studies lacking clear information were considered as moderate risk. High risk studies did not report the statistical tests used. Finally, confounder risk was assessed based on the inclusion of confounders in the analysis. Low risk studies included a comprehensive set of confounders, moderate risk studies included minimal confounders, and high risk studies included no confounders (Table 4).
Table 4

Assessment of potential threats to study validity (N = 24)

Article

Selection bias

Measurement error

Statistical analysis bias

Confounder bias

Abdelhai and Mosleh, 2015

Low risk

Moderate risk

Low risk

Low risk

Abuidhail and Abujilban, 2014

Moderate risk

Moderate risk

Low risk

High risk

Abujilban et al., 2014

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

Moderate risk

Agoub et al., 2005

Moderate risk

Low risk

Low risk

High risk

Al-Azri et al., 2016

Low risk

Moderate risk

Low risk

Low risk

Al Dallal and Grant, 2012

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

High risk

Alharbi and Abdulghani, 2014

High risk

High risk

Moderate risk

Moderate risk

Al Hinai and Al Hinai, 2014

High risk

High risk

Low risk

Moderate risk

Bener, 2013

Moderate risk

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

Bener, Burgut et al., 2012

Moderate risk

High risk

Low risk

Moderate risk

Bener, Burgut et al., 2012

High risk

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

Burgut et al., 2013

Moderate risk

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

Chaaya et al., 2002

High risk

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

El-Khoury et al., 1999

High risk

High risk

Moderate risk

High risk

Green et al., 2006

High risk

High risk

High risk

High risk

Hamdan and Tamim, 2011

High risk

Moderate risk

Low risk

High risk

Khabour et al., 2013

Moderate risk

Low risk

Low risk

High risk

Lteif et al., 2005

High risk

High risk

Low risk

High risk

Masmoudi et al., 2014

High risk

High risk

Low risk

High risk

Masmoudi et al., 2008

High risk

High risk

Low risk

High risk

Masmoudi et al., 2010

High risk

High risk

Low risk

High risk

McHichi Alami et al., 2006

High risk

High risk

Low risk

High risk

Mohammad et al., 2011

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

High risk

Moh'd Yehia et al., 2013

High risk

Low risk

Low risk

Moderate risk

Results

Characteristics of studies

A total of 24 articles met the inclusion criteria (Table 3). Twenty studies were in English, four in French, and none in Arabic. The studies were published between 1999 and 2016 and conducted in ten different countries. Most studies (N = 19) used convenience sampling, with sample sizes ranging from 79 to 1659 women, and an average of 483 participants across studies. Sixteen studies focused on the postpartum period, five on the prenatal period, and three on both. Ten studies included human or economic resources as control variables, and we used data to calculate population proportions for comparison purposes. All studies collected primary data in clinics.

Measurement of mental health

The majority of studies (N = 21) addressed depression as the sole outcome. Two also included anxiety, and one included anxiety and psychological stress in addition to depression. The Edinburgh Post-Natal Depression Scale (EPDS) was used most commonly (N = 16). The Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI; N = 3), Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS-21; N = 2), Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; N = 1), Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale Questionnaire (HADS; N = 1), and Depression Detailed Inventory (DDI; N = 1) also were used.2 How depression was determined varied with researchers using different cut-points to indicate “major depression,” even when using the same scale.

Measurement of human and economic resources for women’s empowerment

Human resources were represented by measures of education (N = 19), economic resources by measures of employment (N = 18), and financial resources (N = 17). Education was operationalized in multiple ways, including literate versus not (N = 3), ordinal school levels (N = 2), or dummy variables such as completed secondary school or more versus less (N = 9), and greater than secondary versus secondary or less (N = 3). Cut-offs used for education were unclear in three studies. Employment was operationalized as problems at work versus none, among those working (N = 2), or working versus not working (N = 10). Operationalization of financial resources also varied with three studies using perceptions of financial distress, two using a salary cut-off in local currency, one using a continuous income measure, and one using income satisfaction.

Threats to study validity

The majority of studies were rated as high risk on selection bias because they used convenience samples or did not report response rates. Risk of measurement error also was high for most studies. While authors indicated that instruments had been validated in-country, they rarely reported assessments using their sample. Almost all studies presented a description of the statistics and methods used and were rated as low risk for statistical bias. Risk for confounder bias was high overall as there was a general lack of inclusion of confounders.

Prenatal relationships

Education

Four studies assessed the association between education and depressive symptoms (EPDS = 3, MINI = 1). Two studies were medium quality and two were low quality. Two studies using the EPDS found opposite relationships (one positive and one negative), while the third found no relationship. The study using the MINI also found no relationship (Table 5). Thus, the association between education and depression among pregnant women was contradictory and inconclusive.
Table 5

The association between pre- and postpartum women’s human and economic resources for empowerment and mental health outcomes in the Arab world

Author

Resource for empowerment

Natal period

Mental health area

Mental health instrument

Break on mental health scale

Measurement metric

Statistical test

Association

Coefficients

Study quality

Abuidhail and Abujilban

Education

Prenatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 13 on EPDS vs. < 13

Low education vs. high education (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

Positive

t = 5.10, p = 0.00

12 low

Abujilban et al.

Education

Prenatal

Depression

EPDS

Continuous Measure

Elementary to MA, literate women only

Multivariate, regression

Negative

B = − 2.2, p < 0.05

15 medium

Al-Azri et al.

Education

Prenatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 13 vs. < 13

Secondary or less vs. university

Bivariate, chi-square

None

χ2 = 2.32, p = 0.13

16 medium

McHichi Alami, Kadri, and Berrada

Education

Prenatal

Depression

MINI

Not stated

Illiterate vs. literate (ref.)

Bivariate, logistic regression

None

PPC: Z = 0.09, p = 0.93

10 low

Al-Azri et al.

Employment

Prenatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 13 vs. < 13

Housewife vs. employed

Bivariate, chi-square

None

χ2 = 0.71, p = 0.39

16 medium

Lteif, Kesrouani, and Richa

Employment

Prenatal

Depression

BDI

Score of < 10, 10–18, > 18

Problems at work vs. not (ref.) (only among those working)

Bivariate, logistic regression

Positive

UaOR = 55.8, p = 0.001

16 medium

McHichi Alami, Kadri, and Berrada

Employment

Prenatal

Depression

MINI

Not stated

Not working vs. working (ref.)

Bivariate, logistic regression

None

PPC: Z = − 0.41, p = 0.68

10 low

Al-Azri et al.

Financial

Prenatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 13 vs. < 13

< 500 vs. 500–1000 vs. > 1000 Omani Riyals

Bivariate, chi-square

None

χ2 = 5.01, p = 0.08

16 medium

Mohammad et al., 2011

Financial

Prenatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of < 13 on EPDS vs. ≥ 13

Worry about financial problems

Multivariate, regression

Positive

B = 0.08, p = 0.01

15 medium

Abdelhai and Mosleh

Financial

Prenatal

Depression and anxiety

HADS

Experiencing anxiety and depression vs. neither

Perceived financial distress, 5-point Likert scale

Multivariate, logistic regression

None

UaOR = 1.59, p = 0.15 (ref: no perceived financial distress)

16 medium

Bener

Education

Postnatal

Depression, anxiety, and stress

DASS-21

≥ 10 depression ≥ 8 anxiety ≥ 15 stress

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

Negative

PPC: Z = − 2.70, p = 0.01

16 medium

Bener, Gerber, and Sheikh

Education

Postnatal

Stress

DASS-21

≥ 15 stress

< Secondary vs. ≥ secondary (ref.)

Multivariate, logistic regression

Positive

aOR = 1.50, p = 0.04

19 high

Bener, Gerber, and Sheikh

Education

Postnatal

Depression

DASS-21

≥ 10 depression

< Secondary vs. ≥ secondary (ref.)

Multivariate, logistic regression

Positive

aOR = 1.50, p = 0.01

19 high

El-Khoury, Karam, and Melham

Education

Postnatal

Depression

DDI

Major depression vs. not (cut-offs not reported)

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

X2 = 0.18, p = 0.67

15 medium

Al Dallal and Grant

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = − 1.52, p = 0.13

14 medium

Alharbi and Abdulghani

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 10 vs. < 10

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, chi-square

None

X2 = 0.07, p = 0.79

14 medium

Bener, Burgut et al.

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

Negative

PPC: Z = − 4.49, p = 0.00

17 medium

Burgut, Bener, Ghuloum, and Sheikh

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

< Secondary vs. ≥ secondary (ref.)

Multivariate, logistic regression

None

Qatari: aOR = 1.62, p = 0.08; Arab non-Qatari: aOR = 0.78, p = 0.32

16 medium

Chaaya et al.

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Above threshold 12/13 vs. below

Low and high vs. medium (cut-offs not reported, ref. = medium)

Multivariate, logistic regression

None

low: OR 1.12, p = 0.77; high: OR 1.98, p = 0.20;

17 medium

Green, Broome, and Mirabella

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of 0–9, 10–12, and ≥ 13 on EPDS

Not reported

Bivariate, means comparison

None

No association, p > 0.05

15 medium

Khabour et al.

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of > 13 on EPDS vs. ≤ 13

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 0.99, p = 0.32

16 medium

Masmoudi, Charfeddine et al.

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of > 10 on EPDS vs. ≤ 10

< Secondary vs. ≥ secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

Positive

Z = 1.04, p = 0.30 (PPD); Z = 2.80, p < 0.01 (intense PPD)

17 medium

Masmoudi, Trabelsi … Jaoua et al.

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 10 on EPDS vs. < 10

≥ Secondary vs. < secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

Z = 0.31, p = 0.76

15 medium

Masmoudi, Trabelsi… Hantouche et al.

Education

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of > 10 on EPDS vs. ≤ 10

Primary, secondary, post-secondary

Bivariate, chi-square

Negative

X2 = 6.68, p = 0.03

16 medium

Agoub, Moussaoui, and Battas

Education

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

MINI case vs. not (cut-offs not reported)

Literate vs. illiterate (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 0.22, p = 0.83

12 low

McHichi Alami, Kadri, and Berrada

Education

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

Not stated

Illiterate vs. literate (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 0.13, p = 0.90

10 low

Hamdan and Tamim

Education

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

MINI case vs. not (cut-offs not reported)

> Secondary vs. ≤ secondary (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

Negative

PPC: Z = 2.08, p = 0.04

19 high

Bener, Gerber, and Sheikh

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

DASS-21

≥ 10 depression

Not working vs. working (ref.)

Multivariate, logistic regression

Negative

aOR = 1.6, p = 0.00

19 high

Al Dallal and Grant

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

Not working vs. working (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 1.34, p = 0.18

14 medium

Alharbi and Abdulghani

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 10 on EPDS vs. < 10

Work or school vs. housewife

Bivariate, chi-square

None

X2 = 1.73, p = 0.19

14 medium

Al Hanai and Al Hanai

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of 0–9, 10–12, and ≥ 13 on EPDS

Work difficulties vs. none (ref.) (among working women)

Bivariate, logistic regression

None

At 2 weeks: UaOR 2.41, p = 0.01; At 8 weeks UaOR 2.27, p = 0.02;

12 low

Bener, Burgut et al.

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

Not working vs. Working (ref.)

Bivariate, Means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 1.54, p = 0.12

17 medium

Burgut, Bener, Ghuloum, and Sheikh

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

Working vs. not

Multivariate, logistic regression

None

Qatari aOR = 1.78, p = n.s. Arab non-Qatari aOR = 0.13, p = n.s.

16 medium

Chaaya et al.

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Above threshold 12/13 vs. below

Working vs. not (ref.)

Multivariate, logistic regression

None

uaOR = 0.74, p = 0.60;

17 medium

Green, Broome, and Mirabella

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of 0–9, 10–12, and ≥ 13 on EPDS

Working vs. not

Bivariate, means comparison

None

No Association, p > 0.05

15 medium

Khabour et al.

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of > 13 on EPDS vs. ≤ 13

Not working vs. working (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = − 0.25, p = 0.80

16 medium

Agoub, Moussaoui, and Battas

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

MINI case vs. Not (cut-offs not reported)

Working vs. not (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 0.00, p = 1.0

12 low

McHichi Alami, Kadri, and Berrada

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

Not stated

Working vs. not (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = − 1.28, p = 0.20

10 low

Hamdan and Tamim

Employment

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

MINI case vs. not (cut-offs not reported)

Working vs. not (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = 0.95, p = 0.34

19 high

Bener, Burgut et al.

Financial

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of ≥ 12 on EPDS vs. < 12

Difficulty managing income vs. not (ref.)

Multivariate, logistic regression

Positive

aOR = 2.37, p < 0.001

17 medium

Khabour et al.

Financial

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Score of > 13 on EPDS vs. ≤ 13

Not satisfied with income vs. satisfied (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

Positive

Z = 2.17, p = 0.03

16 medium

Moh’d Yehia, Callister, and Hamdan-Mansour

Financial

Postnatal

Depression

EPDS

Continuous Measure

Monthly income

Multivariate, regression

Negative

B = − 0.54, p = 0.03

17 high

McHichi Alami, Kadri, and Berrada

Financial

Postnatal

Depression

MINI

Not stated

Financial distress vs. none (ref.)

Bivariate, means comparison

None

PPC: Z = − 0.67, p = 0.50

10 low

EPDS Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, MINI Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview, BDI Beck Depression Inventory, HADS Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, DASS-21 Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (21 item version), DDI Depression Detailed Inventory

; PPC=population proportion comparison; UaOR=Unadjusted odds ratio; aOR=Adjusted odds ratio

Employment

Three studies examined the relationship between women’s employment status and prenatal depressive symptoms. One study used the EPDS and found no relationship. One study used the BDI and found a positive relationship among women who were employed and reported problems at work. The third study used the MINI to compare working versus nonworking women and found no association. Two studies were medium quality, and the other was low quality (Table 5). Overall, two out of three studies found no relationship between employment and depression among pregnant women.

Financial stress

Three studies examined financial stress and prenatal mental health. Two of the studies used the EPDS with one finding a significant positive association and the other finding no association. The third study used the HADS and found no relationship. All three studies were of medium quality (Table 5). Overall, two out of three studies found no association between financial stress and depression among pregnant women.

Postnatal relationships

Education

Sixteen studies examined the relationship of schooling attainment with depression, anxiety, or psychological stress (EPDS = 10, MINI = 3, DASS-21 = 2, DDI = 1). Among studies using the EPDS, six different cut-offs were used to determine if depression was present, and eight different metrics were used to measure schooling attainment. All studies using the EPDS were of medium quality. Two medium-quality studies used the DASS-21 to assess depressive symptoms, both finding a negative relationship. Two other studies examined the relationship between schooling attainment and postnatal depressive symptoms using the MINI instrument to assess depressive symptoms, with neither finding a relationship. Overall, five the 16 studies found a negative relationship between schooling attainment and depression, while 11 studies found no association. However, this result appears to be at least somewhat instrument dependent. Overall, one study was high quality, 12 studies were medium quality, and two were low quality (Table 5). All studies that found an association were of medium or high quality, suggesting that there may be a negative association between education and depression for postpartum women.

Employment

Twelve studies examined the association between employment and postnatal depression. Seven of these studies compared women who were working with women who were not working, while one compared trouble at work among women working. Eight studies used the EPDS and found no association between women’s work status and postnatal depression. Three additional studies used the MINI and also found no association. One high-quality study using the DASS-21 found lower depression among women who were not working. Of the other 11 studies, one was of high quality, seven were medium quality, and three were low quality (Table 5). Overall, no association was found between employment status and postpartum depression.

Financial stress

Four studies examined financial issues and mental health in the postnatal period. Three of these used the EPDS and found an inverse association between actual income or satisfaction with income and levels of depressive symptoms. Of these, one study was high quality and two were medium quality. One low-quality study used the MINI and found no association (Table 5). Overall, an association between financial stress and postpartum depression is plausible.

Discussion

This systematic review examined how women’s human and economic resources for empowerment were associated with their perinatal mental health. Overall, no association is apparent in the prenatal period. However, we cautiously conclude that there is evidence for a negative relationship between schooling and postnatal depression. However, this may be dependent on the instrument used to assess depression, and the low number of studies addressing this relationship makes it difficult to draw strong conclusions. Few studies addressed women’s financial stress and postnatal mental health and they used a variety of instruments and populations; however, the available evidence suggests a positive relationship between financial stress and negative mental health outcomes. Almost none of the studies examining employment and postnatal mental health found an association. While there were substantially more studies examining women’s resources for empowerment and postnatal mental health than for prenatal mental health, multiple factors varied across these studies such as (1) the instrument used to measure depression, (2) how depressive symptoms were assessed, and (3) the metrics used to measure the resource. Thus, conclusions drawn must be tempered by the knowledge that both operationalization and measurement error are likely to have impacted the results we considered.

The tentative negative association between schooling attainment and depression in the postnatal period is important because of the strong emphasis on marriage and family for women living in the Arab world (Barakat, 2005). In many countries in the Arab world, women marry before completing their secondary schooling and do not have the opportunity to continue their education. At the same time, women are considered the “mothers of the nation” and tasked with transmission of culture to younger generations (p. 45, Kandiyoti, 1991). When women marry young, they often do not have strong identities outside their role as wife and mother (Barakat, 2005; Kandiyoti, 1988). The lack of schooling attainment and relative isolation of these women is likely to contribute to depression, as tentatively suggested by the findings of this review.

High financial stress has been associated with pre- and postpartum depression among women in many regions of the world (Eastwood et al., 2011; Ehrlich et al., 2010; Yelland et al., 2010). The tentative association found here suggests that this relationship may be true for women in the Arab world, as well. Women experiencing financial stress may be overwhelmed by trying to care for their child and attend to household duties. In addition, women in the Arab world may be restricted from working by their husbands and thus may be unable to contribute financially to their family or may not have control over any financial resources (James-Hawkins et al. 2016). The inability to either contribute to the household financially or to control resources may leave women feeling overwhelmed and helpless. However, employment status may not be as relevant as type of job or the conditions of employment, which were not detailed in the studies reviewed. Also, the work-related options available to women may not be desirable enough for women to pursue work, and so the alternative of staying home is preferred.

A limitation of the articles reviewed is the lack of theory about how women’s resources for empowerment may influence their perinatal mental health. This concept has been shown to be relevant to mental health, with researchers finding significant associations between women’s empowerment and levels of anxiety in women of reproductive age in the Arab world (Yount and Smith 2012; Yount et al. 2014). The small number of studies identified also presents a problem. Given the demonstrated importance of mental health in the pre- and postnatal periods for positive mother and child outcomes (Glover, 2014; Leis et al., 2014), and the impact of reduced human and economic resources on women’s health and well-being in the Arab world (Haghighat, 2013, 2014; Price, 2016), more studies should be conducted on this topic to allow for more robust conclusions. Focus on a wider scope of mental health outcomes is also needed. While other mental health issues in pregnancy such as anxiety, mood, and psychological stress have been well-studied in Western countries (Hall et al., 2014, 2015; Redshaw and Henderson, 2016; Rubertsson et al., 2014), they have been virtually ignored in the Arab world. A critical limitation of these studies was the inconsistency in how scales were used and how outcomes were operationalized. We encourage researchers interested in perinatal mental health outcomes to spend time creating standards for the use of different scales and suggest they validate those standards in relevant, culturally appropriate contexts as a part of the research process.

Future research should expand the number of psychological conditions assessed in this region, as the current literature focuses almost exclusively on depression, ignoring other mental health issues that may influence the health of the mother and child such as stress, anxiety, or negative mood states (Hall et al., 2014, 2015; Redshaw and Henderson, 2016; Rubertsson et al., 2014). Overall, the pattern of associations found appeared to be attributable to the variety of instruments used, how depression was assessed, and how women’s human and economic resources for empowerment were measured, which speaks more to the consistency and quality of measurement in the literature than to any substantive conclusions about the actual association between domains. This lack of uniformity in the use of consistent cut-off scores was especially true for the EPDS, the most frequently used instrument. Differences in how depression was determined may be complicated by the wide variety of ways in which human and economic resources for empowerment were measured. Finally, the research conducted spanned ten different countries in the MENA region. Overall, there was limited research in the Arab world that addressed mental health.

Limitations and strengths

First, this systematic review is limited to the examination of common and usually less severe mental health outcomes and does not address severe pathologies such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Thus, it may be that there are associations between the human and economic resources for empowerment assessed and other psychological morbidities. However, we intentionally focused on less severe mental pathology in order to assess symptoms of mental distress that are more likely to be experienced by women in the region. Second, there may be older articles that were not included in the electronic databases we searched. However, it is likely that older research has been included in the databses at least in citation form and thus would have been identified. Third, it is possible that our selection of databases missed relevant literature for this review. However, extensive piloting of other databases suggested that we would not gain from including them. A major strength of this review is that it is the first systematic review of mental health issues experienced during pregnancy and in the postpartum periods in the Arab world.

Implications for policy and practice

We identified possible associations between schooling attainment and depression and between financial stress and depression. These findings suggest that closer attention should be paid to women’s access to enabling resources when evaluating them for mental health issues during or after pregnancy. Overall, further research is needed on mental health and the perinatal period both to supplement the existing limited research and to clarify relationships tentatively identified here. Also, we suggest that the international community of researchers attempt to determine specific ways in which human and economic resources for women’s empowerment can be measured in more standardized ways.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    The majority of the articles rejected during the title and abstract review were excluded for being systematic reviews, having a non-human study population, studying non-pregnant women or non-Arab samples, not measuring a mental health outcome, or the mental health outcome was a severe psychopathology. The remaining articles were then subjected to a full-text review and articles were excluded because economic and human resources for women’s empowerment were not analyzed in relation to mental health.

  2. 2.

    One study used two different scales for measurement of depression.

Notes

Funding

This study was funded by The Qatar National Research Foundation (NPRP-7-666-5-081) to Dr. Kathryn M Yount, LPI, and Dr. Hanan Abdul Rahim, co-PI.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

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© The Author(s) 2018

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laurie James-Hawkins
    • 1
  • Eman Shaltout
    • 2
  • Aasli Abdi Nur
    • 3
  • Catherine Nasrallah
    • 4
  • Yara Qutteina
    • 5
  • Hanan F. Abdul Rahim
    • 6
  • Monique Hennink
    • 3
  • Kathryn M. Yount
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.University of EssexColchesterUK
  2. 2.Kingston UniversityLondonUK
  3. 3.Emory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  4. 4.Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research InstitutePalo AltoUSA
  5. 5.KU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  6. 6.Qatar UniversityDohaQatar

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