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Maternal Mental Health Issues Broader Than Previously Thought

Maternal Mental Health Issues Broader Than Previously Thought

June 17, 2014 — Women experience a broader range of mental health issues during pregnancy and the first year giving after birth than previously thought, according to several studies, the New York Times reports.

Scientists previously believed symptoms of postpartum depression only began shortly after childbirth, according to the Times. However, a 2013 study -- the largest screening for postpartum depression on record -- found that 14% of the 10,000 women screened experienced depression within four weeks to six weeks after childbirth, with one-third of them experiencing symptoms during pregnancy. Another analysis of 30 different studies found that about 20% of women had at least one episode of depression within a year of giving birth, half of whom had serious symptoms.

Women are also at risk for a broader range of pregnancy-related mental health issues than depression. Studies have found that between one in eight and one in five women develop symptoms of anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a combination of those conditions. The 2013 study found that nearly one-fourth of the women who experienced depression also had bipolar disorder, while two-thirds with depression also had symptoms of anxiety.

According to scientists, such mental health issues are caused by a combination of genetics, hormones and stress. Margaret Spinelli, director of the Women's Program in Columbia University's psychiatry department, said hormones increase "more than a hundredfold" during pregnancy but significantly decrease after childbirth, which can "disrupt brain chemistry."

States Take Action

According to the Times, 12 states have passed laws to increase education, screening and treatment for maternal mental health issues, and other states are considering legislation.

New Jersey is the only state that mandates screening, under a 2006 law. However, a study of women in the state with Medicaid coverage found that requiring screenings has not led to more women receiving treatment (Belluck, New York Times, 6/15).