University Study Examines Differences in Depression Among Women Before and After Giving Birth

A new study by researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Pittsburgh finds that while postpartum depression remains a serious problem, depression that begins while a woman is pregnant may be more severe and more difficult to treat effectively. The study of women who suffered from postpartum depression found that 24.9 percent of participants developed depression pre-pregnancy, 36.7 percent developed it during pregnancy, and 38.4 percent developed depression during the postpartum period.

Lead author Sheehan D. Fisher, an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at School of Medicine at Northwestern University, notes that “there’s a difference between postpartum depression and depression that started before or during the pregnancy. It’s not a homogenous disorder. When clinicians see a mother during the postpartum period and diagnose her with depression, it’s important for them to ask how long this depression has been an issue so they can assess the longevity and severity.”

The study found that women who had depression before they became pregnant were more likely to experience hypersomnia or difficulty falling asleep. They also experienced more symptoms of paranoia, such as a psychotic episode, than women who developed depression during or after pregnancy. And they had a higher severity of postpartum depression than the other onset periods.

The study, “Factors Associated With Onset Timing, Symptoms, and Severity of Depression Identified in the Postpartum Period,” was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. It may be accessed here.

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