Postpartum Depression? There’s an App for That.

A groundbreaking study of postpartum depression invites 100,000 women on 3 continents to participate via smartphone app.

Several sources offer postpartum statistics including the Center for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association. The numbers are troubling. Of the women who give birth in a given year, approximately 1 in 7 will experience postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum psychosis (PPP).

But those statistics don’t tell the whole story. According to Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of PPD, those statistics omit two additional at-risk groups: women who miscarry and women whose babies are stillborn. Further, the CDC’s numbers account only for women in 17 states who self-reported having symptoms of PPD.

On their blog, Postpartum Progress explains,

Given the shame associated with PPD, it’s possible that some women didn’t report symptoms, while others felt that the symptoms described didn’t match their experience given that many women have postpartum anxiety.  Additionally, multiple studies have confirmed that in high-poverty areas the rate of PPD is as high as 25%. We’d argue it’s likely that approximately 1 million women each year will struggle with a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder.

Putting these numbers in perspective,

More women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in a year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, and epilepsy.

And yet, only 15% of women with postpartum depression receive professional help. With so many women experiencing PPD, why do so few get the help they need?

Screening for Symptoms of Postpartum Depression

Despite the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force’s recent revisions to postpartum screening guidelines, stating that women be screened for symptoms of postpartum depression during pregnancy as well as after giving birth, many physicians never do.

Lack of screening can be attributed to several things. Among them, inadequate staffing for screening and/or follow-up treatment, and the persistent stigmatization of mental illness.

The importance of proper screening and treatment is not only a matter of maternal mental health, but of the child’s mental health as well.

We know postpartum depression affects children’s development and puts them at a higher risk of future psychiatric illness.  In fact, maternal depression during infancy has a bigger impact on a child’s development than later exposure to maternal mental illness.

Enter PPD ACT, a study seeking 100,000 participants, the largest postpartum research endeavor of its kind.

PPD ACT is a research study developed by Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment (PACT) Consortium, an international group of academic clinicians and scientists committed to understanding the interaction of genes and environment to predict which women are at risk of postpartum depression (PPD).

Mixing in with those academic clinicians and scientists from the likes of UNC Chapel Hill and National Institute of Mental Health is Apple.

Apple is providing a free app for the study’s data collection (available now for iOS, and soon for Android). Whether you’re currently experiencing PPD, or struggled with it a decade ago, you’re invited — encouraged — to participate in the study right from your phone. The app also provides information about where to find treatment.

Postpartum Progress refers to the women who’ve experienced PPD as “warrior moms.” An apt description for all who’ve battled maternal depression, anxiety, and even psychosis in stigmatized isolation.

With all that’s at stake, studies like PPDACT are crucial to understanding who gets postpartum depression and why. Information that will help to bring ever more warrior moms out of the darkness into appropriate, and sometimes life-saving, treatment.

Source: Pact for the Cure, Postpartum Progress, Center for Disease Control, American Psychological Association