Finding treatments for the psychological effects of miscarriage

Tommy’s researchers would like to know why some women suffer severe mental health problems after having a miscarriage and want to find out how best to help them.
  • Author's list

    Professor Tom Bourne, Professor Phillip Bennett, Dr Nina Parker, Professor Arri Coomarasamy, Dr Adam Devall, Professor Siobhan Quenby

    Start date: 2018    
    End date: 2026

Why do we need this research?

Miscarriages are traumatic; there is no way around it. Sometimes though, grief can turn into something very severe. Occasionally, miscarriage can lead to problems with mental health such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

We want to understand better why some women are affected by these severe reactions, while others aren’t. Even more, we want to know how to help them.

What’s happening in this project?

The PIEPE – Psychological Impact of Early Pregnancy Events – study looked at how common, and severe, these different conditions are. Our researchers followed 192 women and their male partners for 9 months following a miscarriage, using an online email survey to assess levels of anxiety, depression and PTSD. The team found that 1 in 3 women had symptoms of PTSD one month after their miscarriage and 1 in 3 had symptoms of moderate or severe anxiety. At 9 months, these numbers had dropped to around 1 in 5. 

Our researchers found that mental health problems occurred much less often in male partners. For example, fewer than 1 in 10 had symptoms of PTSD one month after the miscarriage. However, these numbers are still significant and it’s important that this emotional burden is recognised. 

Our researchers are also carrying out three different clinical trials to try and find ways of treating women who are suffering from psychological issues as a result of a miscarriage. The first is testing a therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – a therapy that tries to remove the power of distressing thoughts – to see if it can help women diagnosed with PTSD after pregnancy loss. The second is testing whether intrusive memories can be reduced by carrying out a visuospatial task shortly after miscarriage – in this case, playing the computer game Tetris®. The third is testing whether cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) delivered online by a therapist can reduce the symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety among women who have had a miscarriage.

What difference will this project make?

We now have a better understanding of the number of women and their partners that suffer from severe mental health problems after having a miscarriage. We hope that this research will help to challenge the long-standing taboos surrounding pregnancy loss and mental health, and provide women with cost-effective treatment options that can help to reduce their emotional suffering.

If you have experienced a miscarriage and need to talk to someone, please call our free helpline on 0800 014 7800 between 9-5, Monday to Friday, or find more information about miscarriage here.

Thanks for your interest in our research

Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. Maternal and fetal research is underfunded and we need your support to continue. There are many small and large ways you can support us, find out more here.