Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Study Finds Depression Affects about 1 in 7 New Moms

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Study Finds Depression Affects about 1 in 7 New Moms

Article excerpt

In what is believed to be the largest study of its kind on depression in new mothers, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that about 1 in 7 women have experienced the illness before, during or after pregnancy.

The study, published Wednesday online in the Journal of the American Medical Association, involved screening 10,000 new mothers at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC over four years ending in 2011.

Nearly 1,400 of those women screened for depression. The largest portion, 40 percent, of the depressive group said they experienced it postpartum, 33.4 percent during pregnancy and 26.5 percent before pregnancy. Further interviews found that about 22 percent of them had bipolar disorders, and roughly 20 percent of the 1,400 had suicidal thoughts.

The demographics of these 1,400 women, as well as other findings in the study, confirmed what prior studies have found: New mothers were more likely to test positive for depression if they were younger, single, publicly insured, less well educated and African- American, but that the percentages for all demographics are larger than was known just a few decades ago.

Because of the size of the study, the hope is that it will effect change not only in new parents and doctors, but perhaps politicians to make screening for depression in new or expectant mothers the norm in health care, said Dorothy Sit, assistant professor of psychiatry at Pitt and an investigator on the study.

Cursory screenings for depression using free questionnaire tools found online "could even be done in the home," said Dr. Sit, who is also a researcher at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. "But ideally, it would be done in a clinical setting so someone can monitor results, and have them reviewed by a clinician."

Some OB-GYN and primary care physicians already make such screenings part of annual exams, she said, but it is not mandated in most states, including in Pennsylvania.

"This can save lives," Dr. Sit said, if screening new or expectant mothers is done regularly and if there is follow-up care given to those who test positive.

Dr. Sit said one of the great outcomes of the study, which was funded by a National Institute of Mental Health grant, is that the Pitt researchers had the resources to offer follow-up services for all those new mothers who tested positive for depression -- including immediate assistance to the nearly 20 percent of them who said they'd had suicidal thoughts. …

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