Quick, guess which number is higher: the number of people who sprain an ankle each year, the number of people who have a stroke, or the number of women who experience postpartum depression?
In so many books, articles and news programs, you hear the statistic — approximately 10 to 15% of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs), including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety/OCD and postpartum psychosis. What bothers me about that statistic is that it holds no meaning for most people, and because of that I think these illnesses get much less funding and attention than so many of the other prevalent illnesses that strike Americans. As a result, I decided to do a bit of quick, non-scientific research to look at the real numbers and to help people understand the real impact that postpartum depression is having on the women of our country.
There were approximately 4.3 million live births in the United States in 2007. This statistic does not include fetal losses, including miscarriages and stillbirths. The National Vital Statistics Report indicates that the total number of clinically recognized pregnancies is around 6.4 million. This is important to know, because all postpartum women are susceptible to postpartum depression, regardless of the pregnancy’s outcome.
So let’s split the difference between the high (20%) and low estimates of PPD (11%) and say that an average of 15% of all postpartum women in the US suffer, as the CDC reported in its 2008 PRAMS research. And let’s use the number of clinically recognized pregnancies and not live births. This would mean that each year approximately 950,000 women are suffering postpartum depression.
BUT, did you know the CDC’s research only reflected self-reported cases of postpartum depression? How many women do you think did not mention they had PPD out of fear or shame? Should we increase the estimate of sufferers to 17% or 20%?
ALSO, these numbers don’t take into account women who may have suffered other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPOCD or postpartum psychosis. Should that make the numbers go even higher?
I’d argue that the average number of new mothers who experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is more likely in the 20% range, which would mean around 1.3 million annually.
How does that compare with the incidence among women of other major diseases in America?
- Each year fewer women — approximately 800,000 — will get diabetes. (Nat’l Diabetes Information Clearinghouse)
- Each year about 300,000 women suffer a stroke. (Centers for Disease Control)
- Each year approximately 230,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. (National Cancer Institute)
In fact, more mothers will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for both sexes of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. This is not to minimize these other terrible diseases, of course. I simply want to illustrate just how prevalent postpartum mood & anxiety disorders are.
Dr. Ruta Nonacs of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School adds, “Postpartum depression is far more common than gestational diabetes. All women receiving prenatal care are screened for diabetes, but how many pregnant and postpartum women are screened for depression? PPD is also more common than preterm labor, low birth weight, pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure; in other words, PPD is the most common complication associated with pregnancy and childbirth.”
Let me leave you with one last thought: More moms will suffer from PPD than men will be diagnosed with new cases of impotence (approx. 600,000) this year. Yet you wouldn’t know it, considering the overabundance of erectile dysfunction (ED) ads and people falling all over themselves to discuss ED openly. Why doesn’t PPD get the same attention from pharmaceutical companies?
Why doesn’t society work as hard to eliminate the stigma of PPD? Why aren’t more corporations and foundations concerned about PPD and supporting awareness campaigns?
This really is a big problem, and deserves much more attention than it’s getting.
Photo credit: ©Andres Rodriguez – Fotolia
Great post Katherine! Wish there were answers to these questions.
Thanks for your research. There are other statistics that you need to pay attention to. From studies done through the Federal Early Head Start programs and the National Center for Children in Poverty, teen mothers, poor and single mothers, mothers with history of violence, trauma and abuse, are at great risk for perinatal mood disorders. When these women are surveyed, the numbers jump to over 40% and in some data from the Early Head Start Studies, fathers reported rates of depression as high as around 18%.
In a study done about 10 years ago through the Maternity Center Association, not only did 20% of the women in a survey of 1600 or so mothers who had babies within the previous 24 months report report depression, these women were likely to go into a subsequent pregnancy depressed as well.
While there are differences between those mothers that self report and those that are given clinical surveys or interviews, the bottom line is that parental mental health, and especially PPD and other perinatal mood disorders demand our attention—for the sake of the mothers, families, and their babies.
Sandy Wolkoff, LCSW
Diane Goldberg Maternal Depression Program
Manhasset, New York
Thank you for this. I came across your post while I was doing some research for a post of my own, and I included a link back to it. I heard a very sad story this morning of a mother who reports feeling no bond or connection with her tiny infant, and my sadness over this story inspired me to write my own account.
I am trying to finish up an argumenative editorial for my college english class on this subject and stumbled across your website. I suffered from PPD. Before my daughter was born I looked over all of the literature in the folder we recieved at the hospital and saw quite a few on PPD. I remember thinking wow they are really starting to try and look out for this more. Then I went home and actually experienced PPD, even gathered the courage to ask my OB for help twice. Each time I was told that I may be experiencing only baby blues it was normal and I should give it a little more time to let my hormone levels go back to normal and then if I still didn't feel "right" we'd talk about it again. If it weren't for my observant husband and his psychiatrist friend there is no telling what could have happened. It is so incredibly sad that a disease that effects so many gets virtually no support.
I applaud your article. I also read that NICU moms have a 40% risk of developing PPD. 40%!! You'd think that I was given this number when my preemie was discharged but no, somehow it's all about the baby and mommy should just be thankful she can bring a baby home. Like life after the NICU is all teddy bears. I find it downright criminal to not let a new mom know she's at a higher risk of having PPD. Fortunately, my OB/GYN practive takes PPD VERY seriously and I was able to get help within the hour I made the desperate call.
Yes. NICU moms are at high risk. And as Sandy mentioned above, moms in poverty are at a higher risk.
I'm so sorry you weren't aware of this, but glad that your OB was informed and ready to help!
Chills, Katherine. I got chills reading this. Why ISN'T there a ribbon for us? A mandatory screening? ANYTHING?
You kick azz.
Just popping back to give you the address for the post I wrote.
Thank you again for the information.
Here's one reason why women with postpartum depression are discouraged from seeking help: if they do so, they can enjoy a huge increase in their health insurance rates, or even be dropped from their insurance plans entirely — even if they only have a single appointment.
I remember my mom told me that if I talk to my dr about the possibility of ppd that my baby will get taken away.