A new, thorough review of previous research highlights that women with an unwanted pregnancy are at risk of unwanted, negative effects on their mental health.
However, the decision to have an abortion or continue the pregnancy itself makes little difference to the risk of developing new mental health issues.
The review was carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, part of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK.
The relationship between someone experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, the decision whether to have an abortion or not, stress, and mental health is a complex one that has been studied for decades. However, it’s not been clear what way the relationship goes — does abortion put a woman at increased risk for mental health issues?
The current study examined three prior systematic reviews, two of which were qualitative (descriptive) reviews only with no quantitative pooling of results. The researchers also identified 44 studies for inclusion in their review that examined the link between mental health issues and abortion. Where possible, meta-analysis was used to combine evidence from the comparative studies — such as the odds of mental health problems if an abortion was performed compared to if it was not.
The researchers found that when a woman has an unwanted pregnancy, her chances of developing mental health problems are increased. But that terminating an unwanted pregnancy does not increase the risk of additional mental health problems.
The review also found that a woman’s prior mental health history is an important factor as to whether she will develop future mental health problems after an abortion, compared to women who had no prior mental health history. Stressful life events — such as losing a job or a relationship — also contributed to a higher risk of future mental health problems.
The new research also discovered that women who are pressured into having an abortion are more likely to develop mental health concerns in the future.
Researchers found that the rates of mental health problems after an abortion were higher when studies included women with prior mental health problems than in studies that had specifically excluded women with a history of mental health problems. This suggests that prior mental health problems are likely to increase the risk of experiencing them after an abortion, but that it is not abortion itself that can be solely attributed to the outcome.
The researchers concluded that if a woman chooses an abortion, health and social care professionals should be aware that she is more likely to be at risk of mental health problems if she has a history of prior mental health problems, has experienced negative attitudes towards abortion, has a negative emotional reaction to the abortion herself, or if she is experiencing stressful life events.
The new study was published in the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
Source: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges