Depression Affects One in Seven New Mothers; Number Higher than Previously Believed

Mar 18, 2013

A new study from The University of Pittsburgh found that new mothers are more likely to experience depression before, during and/or after pregnancy. 

Researchers found that one in seven women have experienced depression. The study, published last week in the journal of The American Medical Association, is believed to be the largest of its kind.

Ten thousand new mothers from Southwestern Pennsylvania were screened over four years ending in 2011.

Nearly 1,400 of the women tested for depression. The largest group of the women said they experienced it post-partum, 33 percent during pregnancy and 26 percent before pregnancy.

Eighty percent of the patients with post-partum depression were suffering numerous anxiety symptoms.

Twenty two percent had bipolar disorder and about 20 percent had suicidal thoughts.

Dorothy Sit, a psychiatry professor at The University of Pittsburgh, was the lead researcher on this study. She said these more complicated forms of depression suggest that post-partum depression is a more serious disorder than what the common conception of it is.

“We need to recognize that these are not simple depressions, these are much more complicated and it means that patients need to be referred for urgent treatment – especially if patients are experiencing the suicidal symptoms,” she said.

New mothers were more likely to test positive for depression if they were younger, single, African American and receiving medical assistance.

It's unknown why some women experience depression in the time surrounding pregnancy – some of it might be genetics, some of it might be situational or a combination of the two.

Sit hopes it makes it the norm to screen all pregnant women and new mothers for depression and other disorders.

Many of the women in the study received treatment.

The study was funded by a National Institute of Mental Health grant.