You Can Help Destigmatize -- & Cure -- Postpartum Depression With Your iPhone

mom with baby

If you've ever suffered from postpartum depression, you know how incredibly difficult it can be to talk about. But staying silent leads to a heartbreaking sense of isolation, and can keep many women from ultimately seeking help. That's why researchers have created a new app that not only encourages moms to open up about their symptoms, but also gives us the opportunity to help out other women who are struggling -- and hopefully contribute to a cure!  


Called PPD ACT, the app is the result of a collaboration between Apple, UNC Chapel Hill, Postpartum Progress and the National Institute of Mental Health, and it will allow both moms who are currently suffering from PPD (and related disorders) to participate in the study via their iPhones, with the goal of reaching 100,000 women.

"The reason why this is so potentially powerful is because if we were to try to do a study on this large of a scale at a clinic, it could literally take years," UNC’s Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody tells The Stir

"The app was initially developed as a research project for us to understand the biological and genetic causes of PPD, with the overall goal of developing better ways of screening," she says.

"But for genetic studies, especially those involving mental health, you need a very large sample size in order to understand the underlying biology. Mental health is much more complicated because there's not just one gene -- like with Parkinson's, you need variants of lots of different genes."

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It's Meltzer-Brody's hope that this study will yield a large sample size because the app is extremely convenient for moms to use. Here's how it works: Moms are asked a number of questions, such as how long they suffered from PPD, what symptoms they had, and whether or not that was their first bout of depression. Candidates who score above a certain cutoff number are then given the opportunity to submit a DNA sample via a "spit kit" which will be sent directly to their homes (including postage for mailing the sample back).

The approach is novel because, as Meltzer-Brody explains, the largest study of genetic PPD causes up until this point only included approximately 1,000 samples.

It's exciting to imagine what the results of a study 100 times larger could tell us -- and how those findings might affect prevention and treatment in years to come. Another possible benefit of such a huge and highly publicized study, Meltzer-Brody says, would be to help take away some of the stigma associated with maternal mental illness.

"It's really hard to go in and tell your OB at your postpartum visit that you're having a terrible time even though it's so common," she acknowledges. This hesitancy on the part of so many moms could be considered a limiting factor in past studies, so the makers of PPD ACT are hoping that the relative anonymity factor of the app will make it easier for women to come forward.

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"What's really exciting is being able to do this on an app," says Meltzer-Brody. "Standing in line at the grocery store, you can consent to give a clinical screen and DNA test. While you're waiting to pay for toilet paper and eggs you've made a huge contribution to science!"

"We really want to reach busy moms in a quick and easy way that feels meaningful," she adds.

"We can have a movement of sorts where women come forward to say, 'We're going to do this for the sisterhood.' For anything to be successful it has to be embraced by the women. I feel passionately that women and moms we all have to stick together to advance our agenda."

We feel the same way! If you're interested in participating in the study, download the PPD ACT app (for free!) here



Image via FrancescoCorticchia/

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