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The Rate of Mothers who Suffer from Postpartum Depression is Alarmingly High

Update Date: Mar 14, 2013 02:57 PM EDT

In the largest scale screening for depression in postpartum mothers to date, researchers found that the number of mothers suffering from this mental disorder is alarmingly high. The study done by researchers at Northwestern Medicine is also the first study to administer a full psychiatric assessment on these women who were positive for depression. The study found that roughly one in seven mothers might be suffering from this disease.

Postpartum depression occurs roughly three months after the delivery date and can range anywhere from moderate to severe cases of depression. Although there is no explanation for why this condition occurs, many experts believe that it is due to the imbalance of hormones that occur post-birth. The study, headed by Dr. Katherine Wisner from the Northwestern University's Asher Center for Research and Treatment of Depression in Chicago, analyzed the data of 10,000 women who gave birth at an obstetrical hospital in Pittsburgh. These mothers were screened for depression through a phone interview four to six weeks post labor. The questions measured depression by asking about moods, levels of enjoyment, anxiety, and several more factors.

After the interviews, researchers found that 1,400 of them had positive signs for depression, a 14 percent rate that is pretty consistent with previous studies. The affected women tended to be young, African-American, publically insured, single parent, and less educated. The researchers did a follow-up by visiting 826 of the mothers who tested positive and called an additional 147 of the participants. They found that 40.1 percent of the women had symptoms postpartum, 33.4 percent had them during pregnancy, and 26.5 had symptoms prior to pregnancy. Of this group of women, 68.5 percent had unipolar depressive disorders and 66.7 percent suffered from comorbid anxiety disorders. A smaller group, 22.6 percent, had bipolar disorder and 19.3 percent experienced suicidal thoughts.

These high rates of postpartum depression suggests that screening a mother's mental health a few weeks post delivery might be useful in diagnosing and treating these disorders earlier. Furthermore, mothers should not ignore their symptoms and get help as soon as possible before the mental illnesses start to negatively affect the body and the family.

The study was published in JAMA Psychiatry

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