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Postpartum depression may be the tip of the iceberg (USA)

March 21, 2013

The March online issue of JAMA Psychiatry contains the results of a large-scale study revealing that more than one in five women with postpartum depression also experience other mental disorders. These can include bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and self-harm ideation. In some cases, these illnesses may actually have been the underlying cause of postpartum depression, but remained undetected until the birth of a child.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine screened 10,000 new mothers and conducted in-home visits. They found that depression is most often experienced four to six weeks after a child is born, however 33 per cent of cases presented during pregnancy and almost 27 per cent of these women actually experienced signs of mental illness prior to conception.

Postpartum depression was confirmed to affect ten to 20 per cent of new mothers, impacting their mental health for up to a year after labour and delivery. Due to the upset in eating and sleeping routines following the birth of a child, many new mothers pass off their fatigue, inability to concentrate, lack of appetite or feelings of depression and anxiety as “normal.”

Researchers emphasize that these symptoms could be signs of a major depression and advise new mothers to seek help. They also urge physicians to carefully customize treatment since medications prescribed for depression can be contraindicated for patients with bipolar disorder.

The JAMA Psychiatry abstract, “Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-harm and Diagnosis in Postpartum Women With Screen-Positive Depression Finding,” can be read on their website.

You can also read, “Post-partum depression: A red flag for other mental illnesses?” on the Globe and Mail website.

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