Postpartum depression (PPD) is something many new moms face, but a large-scale study of 10,000 mothers found the problem is much more serious than previously thought. Screenings done at Northwestern University’s Asher Center for the Study and Treatment of Depressive Disorders identified 1 in 7 mothers showed significant depressive symptoms and 19.3 percent of the women who showed these symptoms had considered harming themselves.
What researchers find most troubling is the fact that sufferers themselves don’t know when to get help. Many women assume they’re supposed to feel anxiety, stress, and depression soon after giving birth. Further, the study uncovered a complicated psychological picture, one where PPD is only part of the problem. Those conducting the study said clinicians must look carefully for signs of PPD as many women who suffer from PPD are at high risk for additional psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, suicide accounts for 20 percent of postpartum deaths. Of the women who met the criteria for major depression, 22 percent also had bipolar disorder. Anxiety disorders also occurred frequently in women who experienced PPD.
Many women who experienced PPD struggled with depression during pregnancy as well. The study’s director, Dr. Katherine L. Wisner stresses the importance of treating women during pregnancy. “Depression during pregnancy increases the risk to a woman and her fetus. Depression is a physiological dysregulation disorder of the entire body.” The disorder has been linked to preterm birth and low birth weights. Fortunately, there is a body of research says preventing maternal and postpartum depression may be a simple matter of giving mothers social support during their pregnancies. Though Illinois requires perinatal screening for mental health problems, Wisner urges health care providers to make access to treatment convenient and cost-effective for mothers.