Research Shows We're Still Failing Moms When It Comes To Postpartum Depression

Risa Kerslake


Risa Kerslake

Postpartum depression affects one in seven women after giving birth, and thanks to celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen, it’s being talked about more and more. But when you consider that these statistics don’t account for the women who have had miscarriages and still can develop postpartum depression, the number is actually much higher. There was even a study done in 2011 that suggested adoptive mothers have about the same rates of depression as postpartum mothers.

Depression can start while a woman is still pregnant, and the symptoms can come on as late as a year after giving birth.

Feelings of guilt or overwhelming anger, disinterest in the baby, sadness, and trouble sleeping are all signs that something could be wrong. 

  • The likely thing a mother would do is tell her doctor what’s going on, right?

    But a study from The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry says that we could be doing much better when it comes to treating moms for postpartum depression. Researchers gathered 32 past studies that were done on treating women with postpartum depression, and the results they put together are pretty shocking.

    According to the study, 31 percent of women with postpartum depression were diagnosed in their clinic but only 6 percent receive proper treatment. What’s more, only about 3 percent were able to get better and stay better. The results were slightly better for women who were diagnosed with antenatal depression (meaning they were diagnosed with depression during pregnancy) but still.

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  • Why is the medical community failing to meet the needs of mothers when it comes to helping them with postpartum depression?

    “In the United States, the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated, even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders,” said Dr. Katherine Wisner in an article from Seleni Institute.

    Motherhood is all about high emotions and little sleep, and many women think that what they’re feeling is normal when in reality, the problem is much deeper. They may not even tell their health care provider what’s going on for a variety of reasons, from concerns that they’re making a big deal out of it to the fear their baby may be taken away.

  • What the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has to say.

    Earlier this year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a document about how women can best be helped postpartum, including recommendations that postpartum care be ongoing rather than a single visit and for care to be tailored to the specific needs of the woman. After all, there are a ton of prenatal visits a pregnant woman needs to attend, but only one or two postpartum ones. In addition, according to ACOG, 40 percent of women don’t even have a postpartum appointment.

    There doesn’t seem to be any clear answer in the research in 2018 if things have improved for mothers. In 2016, the same year the study came out, Congress passed a bill for states to use funds in screening and treating postpartum depression. But the problem may lie in doctors’ not really knowing what to do when a mom screens positive for depression. There aren’t enough qualified mental health professionals to treat the unique needs of postpartum patients. And insurances don’t always have the best mental health coverage. To top it off, the stigma of depression, especially in mothers, still exists.

  • We as mothers deserve better.

    It doesn’t seem to be enough to ask moms a series of depression questions at their postpartum visits. More professionals trained in mental health need to be involved in a mother’s care when she’s diagnosed with depression. It’s also not enough for primary care providers or OBGYNs to prescribe a medication for depression and a followup appointment. Although medications and therapy seem to be the best when they’re used together in treating depression, the reality is so many women are falling through the cracks.

    The worlds of maternity care and mental health need to come together so mothers can have their symptoms successfully treated. Better yet, more clinics need to take note of ACOG’s recommendations to schedule postpartum appointments sooner than six weeks, and maternity leaves in the United States need to be extended to meet the needs of families.

    Because moms, we deserve better.

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