Many Women With Postpartum Mood Disorders Are Not Seeking Help

Depressed Woman

A recent study revealed that 21 percent of women who experience postpartum anxiety or depression do not share their symptoms with healthcare providers.

“We know that 10-20 percent of women experience significant mood disorders after childbirth, and those disorders can adversely affect the physical and emotional well-being of both mothers and children,” said researcher Betty-Shannon Prevatt, a practicing clinical psychologist and Ph.D. student at NC State. “Our goal with this study was to see how many women are not disclosing these problems, since that's a threshold issue for helping women access treatment.”

The researchers conducted an anonymous survey involving 211 women who gave birth within the previous three years. The survey inquired whether the women had experienced postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) symptoms, and if so, did they share the symptoms with any healthcare workers, such as nurses, doctors, or lactation consultants. Questions were also asked regarding overall mental health and challenges to seeking care.

Survey results revealed 51 percent of the respondents met PPMD criteria, yet more than one in five with PPMD symptoms did not talk to a healthcare provider about it.

“To place this in context, there are national guidelines in place telling healthcare providers to ask women about PPMD symptoms after childbirth,” says researcher Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State. “With so many women in our study not disclosing PPMDs to their providers, it strongly suggests that a significant percentage of these women did not disclose their symptoms even when asked.”

The study showed the women most likely to reveal PPMD symptoms to health care workers were those with extremely high stress levels, and those with strong social support networks. Barriers to treatment were more often associated with women who were unemployed, had a history of mental health difficulties, or were experiencing severe PPMD symptoms.

The investigators believe their work highlights women’s need for developing strong support networks, and the benefit of normalizing the variety of reactions experienced following childbirth. “We need to make it OK for women to talk about their mental health, so that they can have better access to care. Working with the people around new mothers may be key,” said Prevatt.

Source: North Carolina State University
Photo credit: Brian


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