Postpartum depression is a form of depression that affects roughly 12.5% of all new mothers…
Postpartum Depression Can Lead to Chronic Symptoms
Many women experience a major change when they bring their first baby home. Tasked with caring for a child in the midst of recovery from delivery and a flood of hormonal changes, many women feel overwhelmed. In some cases serious symptoms can meet criteria for a diagnosis of postpartum depression (PPD). A new study suggests that if a woman experiences PPD, her chances of developing long-term depression increases 30 to 50 percent.
Not only can the mother suffer from the symptoms of depression and the various ways in which it affects her quality of life, but parental depression also has an adverse effect on the long-term development of the child. The children of mothers suffering PPD may need additional ongoing support if those symptoms develop into chronic depression.
The study by researchers at the University of Leuven, Belgium, reviewed PPD studies from 1985 to 2012 that followed the depression during follow-up examinations. In every study, scores for depressive symptoms were shown to improve over time. In some cases, however, the symptoms decreased but did not reach a point where they no longer met criteria for depression. In 30 percent of the PPD cases the women were still depressed three years after they delivered their child.
In situations in which the patients were receiving medical care, approximately 50 percent were depressed through the first year following delivery. The average rate of chronic depression was 38 percent. Several studies looked to identify other subgroups of patients with different outcomes; all reported a subgroup of women with persistent depression.
There was also a subgroup evaluated in many of the studies that had experienced major depression in the first three months following delivery but had recovered within six months of birth. Other studies identified a subgroup called “decreasing depression,” in which symptoms continued to improve but were never completely eliminated.
The development into chronic depression may be due to pre-existing symptoms, or it could be the result of other existing mood disorder symptoms. The analysis showed that there were factors that increased the risk of PPD developing into chronic depression, such as being a minority, being from a lower income bracket and being a younger mother.
The study showed support for other types of variables playing a role in the development of chronic depression, including the quality of the partner relationship, high levels of parental stress and a history of depression or sexual abuse in the mother.
Identifying these factors is critical, not only for the mental health of the mother but also for the child’s well-being. Previous studies have shown a connection between depression and negative consequences in the child, like delays in cognitive and verbal development, as well as school readiness.
The researchers suggest further study that focuses on PPD and its long-term impact on mental health.