Shedding light on undetected depression in women during pregnancy

Author: Calm Guest

Date: Oct 22, 2023

Categories: Mental health

Pregnancy is often portrayed as a time of joy, expectation, and excitement. However, beneath this façade lies a silent crisis that affects many expecting and new mothers – depression. It’s a topic that has been under-discussed, underdiagnosed, and poorly detected in prenatal and postpartum care. Shockingly, mental health conditions are the leading cause of maternal mortality, and most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable.

Lack of Awareness and Screening

A recent survey revealed that 70% of women wish they had known more about postpartum mental health before giving birth. Despite the growing awareness of worsening maternal health outcomes in the U.S., mental health often remains conspicuously absent from the conversation. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, PPD affects approximately 1 in 8 women who give birth each year.
While mental health screening alone may not directly improve outcomes, it plays a vital role in early identification and reducing the stigma around mental health. Organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have established national guidelines for the recommended frequency of screenings. However, there has been a significant lack of insight into screening practices nationwide until recently.

A Critical Issue

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences emphasizes the seriousness of PDD.

1. The Impact on a Mother’s Health

PDD can have a profound impact on a mother’s physical and mental well-being. When left untreated, a mother with PDD may struggle to take care of herself. She may experience a loss of appetite, leading to poor nutrition. Fatigue and low energy levels can make daily tasks and infant care even more demanding. The combination of these factors can have serious implications for a mother’s health.

2. The Risk of Self-Harm and Harm to the Baby

One of the most concerning aspects of untreated PDD is the risk of self-harm or harm to the baby. Mothers with severe PDD may experience thoughts of hurting themselves or their infants. This is a critical issue that requires immediate attention and intervention to ensure the safety of both the mother and the child.

3. Developmental Impact on Infants

Furthermore, experts have noted potential behavioral problems and developmental delays in infants whose mothers have PPD. The emotional and psychological well-being of the mother-child relationship can be significantly affected. Early intervention and treatment are essential to support the healthy development of the child.

The Need for Change

Clearly, there is a significant gap in mental health care during and after pregnancy. Early detection is crucial, but we can’t address the problem unless we know what’s wrong. The field of reproductive psychiatry is still relatively new, and obstetricians are often not trained to treat mental health conditions in pregnant patients.
ACOG has recently updated its guidance to recommend more frequent screenings for perinatal depression and anxiety, but some providers argue that these guidelines are not enough. The lack of infrastructure to support this initiative, as well as the high cost and limited accessibility of mental health treatment, pose significant challenges.

The Way Forward

Improving mental health care during and after pregnancy requires a multifaceted approach. While ACOG’s guidelines provide essential educational resources, it’s crucial to develop supportive infrastructure and ensure that healthcare providers have the time, resources, and knowledge to screen and refer patients effectively.
Moreover, efforts are needed to make mental health treatment more accessible, affordable, and with shorter waiting times. As we strive to create a more supportive environment for expectant and new mothers, addressing maternal mental health issues should be a top priority. By breaking the silence and
providing the necessary support, we can help women on their journey to motherhood thrive both physically and mentally.

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