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Postpartum Depression Affects 1 in 7 Mothers; Bipolar Rate Strikingly High, Study Finds

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

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The largest study to date of postpartum depression has found that one in seven women experience symptoms of depression after childbirth.

Published in JAMA Psychiatry by theAmerican MedicalAssociation, the basic finding is consistent with past prevalence estimates however, the study’s follow-up evaluations of women at risk revealed especially serious symptoms.
Approximately 20 percent of the mothers with depressive symptoms were experiencing suicidal thoughts. Among those who were followed for a full year, 22 percent experienced severe depression.

In the study, 10,000 mothers who gave birth at a Pittsburgh hospital were contacted by telephone and screened six to eight months later for symptoms of depression. Fourteen percent were identified as being at risk. Approximately 60 percent of the at-risk group received follow-up home visits. Another 11 percent completed diagnostic interviews by telephone

Forty percent of the women’ symptoms began postpartum. Thirty-three percent were assessed as having begun during pregnancy and 27 percent beforehand. Follow-up evaluations most often resulted in a diagnosis of depression with a co-occurring anxiety disorder.

“A striking 22.6 percent had bipolar disorder,” the study warned.

The study calls for all pregnant women and new mothers to be screened for depression, beyond what current medical practice requires. It also emphasizes the need for “strategies to differentiate women with bipolar from unipolar disorders.”

In 2010, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) held that there was “insufficient evidence to support a firm recommendation” for universal screening for depression. However, its Committee on Obstetric Practice recognized the potential benefits of screening and stressed that women already experiencing depression or having a history of depression particularly warranted “close monitoring and evaluation.”

In the study, women who tested positively for symptoms of depression were “more likely to be younger, African American, publicly insured, single and less well educated.”


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