A Lifeline For Doctors Helps Them Treat Postpartum Depression


Editorial Team
  • 3 minute read

A Lifeline For Doctors Helps Them Treat Postpartum Depression

Originally published at NPR

As a young woman, Jennifer Ford struggled with anxiety and depression. When she got pregnant, her physician advised her to stay on the antidepressant she took to manage her symptoms.

Her first pregnancy and childbirth went smoothly, she says, but things were different after she gave birth the second time. “It’s when I hit my wall,” Ford says.

She remembers feeling overcome by grief immediately after she got home.

“I couldn’t even communicate a full sentence about how I was feeling,” recalls Ford. “All I could do was cry.”

She couldn’t eat, sleep or take care of her newborn.

One afternoon, she was in her bedroom trying to take a nap but couldn’t fall asleep — she felt overwhelmed by her emotions. “I wanted to take all of my pain meds and go to bed,” she says. She wanted to put an end to her suffering.

Instead, she went into the kitchen and told her husband how she felt. “That was when he was like ‘OK, obviously something needs to change here. We’re going to get help. And we’re going to get it now.’ “

Her husband made an appointment with her OB-GYN, Dr. Christopher Conlan.

“She came in and I could immediately see in her face that she was having a very difficult time,” Conlan remembers. “She needed help and didn’t know where to turn.”

Conlan gave Ford a standard depression questionnaire that confirmed that she had postpartum depression.

But he was at a loss as to how to treat her. Like most OBs, he wasn’t trained to provide mental health care.

“At that point, the tools I have in my everyday practice were used,” he recalls.

The story could have ended there. Around the country, an estimated 1 in 7 pregnant women and new mothers becomes clinically depressed during pregnancy or postpartum. But their primary points of contact in the medical system — their obstetricians — often lack the skills to address this common problem. As a result, few women get a diagnosis or treatment. According to one study, less than 20% of women get treated.

Luckily for Ford, her doctor had another resource to turn to. Recognizing the importance of the obstetrician’s relationship with pregnant patients and new moms, a statewide program in Massachusetts offers support to obstetricians and gynecologists in screening for and treating depression in pregnant women and new moms.

“Every time a woman is seen by an obstetrics provider it is an opportunity to detect depression, educate them about it and to really engage them in treatment,” says psychiatrist Nancy Byatt at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Byatt helped launch a program called the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Program for Moms, or MCPAP for Moms.

Read more at NPR

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