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Around a third of Bedouin new mothers in the Negev suffer from postpartum depression, according to recent research by a master's degree candidate at Ben-Gurion University's Faculty of Health Sciences.

According to the study by Samira Alfayumi Ziadna, the percentage of Negev Bedouin mothers suffering from postpartum depression - 32 percent - is much higher than among new mothers in Arab countries or Jewish mothers in Israel. Among Arab mothers in northern Israel, 24.7 percent suffer from postpartum depression, compared with only 5.5 percent of Jewish mothers in that region.

In the Arab world, postpartum depression affects 18 percent to 21 percent of new mothers. In the Western world the figure is 10 percent to 15 percent.

Studies show several risk factors: poverty, numerous children, a sick baby, lack of a support system, low education, unemployment, marital problems and an unplanned pregnancy.

Ziadna says her study is the first of its kind on postpartum depression in Bedouin women in the Negev, some of whom fit the risk categories for the condition.

The medical community defines postpartum depression as a serious condition lasting more than two weeks. It typically includes a sense of sadness and hopelessness and can include a variety of other symptoms such as insomnia, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating and suicidal thoughts. There can also be an inability to function at work and in social situations.

Ziadna says that if detected early, especially by nurses at primary family health care clinics, new mothers could be referred for proper psychiatric care, avoiding the negative repercussions of the condition.

Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman, who has seen the report, has reportedly asked Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to allocate funding to deal with the problem.

According to Braverman, there are 155 clinics providing psychiatric care in Israel, but the closest one to Bedouin women in the south is Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. The Minority Affairs Ministry found that very few Bedouin women seek help at Soroka because of their poverty, lack of transportation and little help in taking care of their other children when they are absent.

Braverman said the information in Ziadna's research was presented to experts at the Health Ministry in May, and a demand was made to fund biweekly visits by psychiatrists to well-baby clinics in Bedouin communities. But nothing was done because no funding was available.