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Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and notably, May 3, 2017 was Maternal Mental Health Day, meant to bring awareness to conditions such as postpartum depression.
What is postpartum depression? It is different than clinical depression and other mood disorders.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, postpartum depression can start during pregnancy, or at any time up to a year after the birth of a child. Both mothers and fathers can experience postpartum depression. Depression affects many facets of a person’s life, including self-confidence, how he/she relates to or interacts with other people, and ability to care for himself/herself and to perform activities of daily living or to work. A person experiencing postpartum depression may experience frequent thoughts of being a bad parent, be having difficulty enjoying the new baby and could be having thoughts about harming themselves or their baby in extreme cases. Postpartum depression can affect any new parent, even adoptive parents.
Neuroscientists from the University of Rennes, from Michigan State University and the University of Toronto found that pregnancy associated mental disorders actually affect a different area of the brain compared to other mood disorders. Functional MRIs (fMRIs) were used to examine brain activity to study brain activity during postpartum depression and anxiety. Currently, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are treated as if they are extensions of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. These researchers were able to demonstrate that the neural activity patterns were distinct.
A research study from the University of British Columbia found that anxiety disorders in new mothers postpartum anxiety is more prevalent than new mothers who develop depression. The researchers found that 17% of new mothers experience anxiety/could be diagnosed with anxiety compared to 5% who experience depression/could be diagnosed with depression and that 16% of pregnant women experience anxiety/could be diagnosed with anxiety and 4% of pregnant women experience depression/could be diagnosed with depression. The study’s lead researcher explained that this finding was not surprising as anxiety disorders are approximately twice as common as mood disorders including depression. The results of this study suggest that healthcare professionals should assess and treat pregnant women and postpartum women for anxiety disorders as well as depression.
The University of North Carolina has launched a version of a mobile application based study of postpartum depression that is now available to Android users, and the application is now available to Australians and Canadians on Apple devices. The study, “PPD ACTTM” is a survey of women with symptoms of postpartum depression and invites women to provide DNA samples so that researchers can study the genes of women affected by postpartum depression. By launching an Android version in the US and Australia and opening the study to Canadians, the study will accumulate more participants and the researchers will work towards finding a way to effectively diagnose and treat postpartum depression.
New research from Johns Hopkins University found that having high levels of allopregnanolone, considered to be an “anti-anxiety hormone” during pregnancy may protect expectant mothers from developing postpartum depression. As a result of the study, researchers are looking into allopregnanolone as a potential treatment for postpartum depression.
Could a “nutrition kit” be the answer to staving off symptoms of postpartum depression? The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health found that a 3 supplement nutrition kit containing two amino acids plus a blueberry extract for its antioxidant effects was effective in eliminating symptoms of depression in new mothers. The amino acids were used to compensate for the loss of mood regulating chemicals. As part of the study, shortly after women had given birth, they were given the supplements and compared to another group of women who did not receive the supplements. It was found that those who received the supplements did not experience depressed mood. The researchers interpreting this finding to mean that there is a beneficial effect of intervention when postpartum sadness peaks and that this approach could be used to treat postpartum depression. The “nutrition kit” tries to compensate for the change in levels of a brain protein that regulates mood, MAO-A.
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