Postpartum Depression Has The Ability to Become Chronic

postpartum depressionRecent research has found that although the symptoms of postpartum depression in some women decrease over time, there are others that develop chronic problems.[1] In fact, a report in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry suggests that postpartum depression becomes a long-term problem for 30 to 50 percent of all affected women.1

Researchers at the University of Leuven, Belgium said, “Families with mothers suffering from postpartum depression need the engagement of clinicians who are sensitive to the signs of the depression potentially becoming chronic.”1

Parental depression has the ability to adversely affect a child’s long-term development; therefore, ongoing support for parents who suffer from the disorder is important, especially during early childhood and beyond.1

Nicole Vliegen, Ph.D., and colleagues completed a critical review of the research on postpartum depression done between 1985 to 2012.1 The researchers focused on the course of postpartum depression during follow-up, including factors that contributed to a higher risk of developing chronic depression.1 While all follow-up studies of women with postpartum depression showed decreased symptoms over time, the scores did not always fall below the clinical line for depression.1 Up to three years after delivery, 30 percent of mothers with postpartum depression were still depressed.1

Several of the studies looked to identify subgroups of patients with different outcomes, and all found a subgroup of women with persistent depression.1 Some reports stated that chronic postpartum depression may represent a continuation of a pre-existing depressive or other mood disorder.1 Also, the younger the mother, those with lower income, and minority women were at a higher risk of postpartum depression turning chronic.1 Other factors included a lower quality of the partner relationship, a history of depression, a history of sexual abuse, higher parental stress, and personality factors.1 However, colic or other infant illnesses did not seem to affect the risk of chronic depression.1

Vliegen said, “Because postpartum depression has significant consequences for the baby, for the depressed mother, and for the early relationship between mother and child, knowledge about prolonged changes in the mental health of mothers with postpartum depression may not only improve our understanding of postpartum depression, but also inform prevention and intervention strategies.”1

Recommendations for further research include larger studies using a standard definition of postpartum depression and consistent follow-up.1 The researchers also state that health care providers should keep a closer eye on mothers who suffer from postpartum depression, to see if it turns chronic, so that proper treatment can be given.1

[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Postpartum Depression Can Turn Chronic. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 15, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/01/14/postpartum-depression-can-turn-chronic/64494.html

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