Important new study confirms what we’ve been saying

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and reported on The Morning Show this morning, a study from Denmark (headed by Trine Munk-Olsen of the University of Aarhus), collected 1 million first-time parents (600,000 women and 500,000 men men who became new parents between 1973 and 2005) to determine the liklihood of mental illness following childbirth. This study looked at the incidence of postpartum depression as well as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder during the first three months postpartum.

This was a huge study and researchers determined that new moms are much more vulnerable to serious mental illness than the men who were followed. Women were three times more likely to seek help from an outpatient facility for mental health issues compared to moms who had given birth a year ago. Furthermore, researchers found 1.03 women per 1,000 births suffered a mental disorder requiring hospital admission

And this part was really good to see in print (some of us have been saying this for years): The researchers estimate that postpartum depression isn’t ever diagnosed in approximately 40 to 50 percent of cases, thus suggesting that the problem is greater that the statistics indicate. Many of us who have been inflating the statistics (saying that PPD affects as many as 20-30% of postpartum women)have been taking this notion into consideration for a long time.

For new fathers, the rate of hospitalizations for mental illness was 0.37 per 1,000 births, a rate that did not differ from the general male population, indicating that the illnesses are indeed linked to a biologic or hormonal process that impacts women. “It supports what I see clinically,” Dr. Valerie Davis-Raskin said. “If you go out and shovel snow and you have chest pain or a heart attack, the snow didn’t cause it. It uncovered something that was there. I think that’s what childbirth does for many women with mood disorders, particularly bipolar or a tendency for psychotic disorders.” (I LOVE her metaphors, she makes it so easy to understand!)

Additional info from the study:

“First-time mothers were seven times more likely to be hospitalized for a severe mental illness than second-time moms who had given birth 11 to 12 months before, researchers say… The greatest risk for mental illness was 10 to 19 days after childbirth, but the risk was still significant three months later.”

Editorials that accompanied the study are calling for univeral screening programs.

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