A surprisingly high number of women have postpartum depressive symptoms; say the researchers behind one of the largest psychiatric assessments of new mothers ever conducted.
The Northwestern University study, which included a depression screening of 10,000 women who had recently delivered infants, revealed a large percentage of women who suffered recurrent episodes of major depression.
In the study, 14 percent of the women screened positive for depression. Of that group, 826 received full psychiatric assessments during at-home visits. Some of the key findings from those assessments:
- In women who screened positive for depression, 20 percent thought of harming themselves.
- Many women who screened positive for major depression postpartum had already experienced at least one episode of depression previously and, in addition, had an anxiety disorder.
- Of the women who screened positive for major depression, 22 percent had bipolar disorder, the majority of whom had not been diagnosed by their physicians.
"That's a very high rate of bipolar disorder that has never been reported in a population screened for postpartum depression before," said study leader Katherine L. Wisner. "It is significant because antidepressant drug treatment alone can worsen the course of bipolar disorder."
The researchers also note that women who have been pregnant in the past year are less likely to seek treatment for depression than women who have not been pregnant.
"Depression during pregnancy increases the risk to a woman and her fetus," Wisner said. "Depression is a physiological dysregulation disorder of the entire body."
Maternal prenatal stress and depression have previously been linked to preterm birth and low infant birth weight, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Depression also affects a woman's appetite, nutrition and prenatal care and is associated with increased alcohol and drug use.
"In the U.S., the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders," said Wisner. "A lot of women do not understand what is happening to them. They think they're just stressed or they believe it is how having a baby is supposed to feel. It's a huge public health problem. A woman's mental health has a profound effect on fetal development as well as her child's physical and emotional development."
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Source: Northwestern University