Postpartum Depression By The Numbers: Which Happens More -- Sprained Ankles, Impotence or PPD?

9 years ago

Quick, guess which number is higher:  the number of people who sprain their ankle each year or the number of women who experience a postpartum mood disorder?  Actually, it's about equal.  Surprised?

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 help people understand the real impact that postpartum depression is having on the women of our country.

According to the National Center of Health Statistics, there were approximately 4.1 million live births in the United States in 2004.  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 PPMDs, regardless of the pregnancy's outcome.

So let's split the difference between the high and low estimates of PPMDs and say that 12.5% of all postpartum women in the US suffer.  This would mean that each year approximately 800,000 women are suffering a serious postpartum mood disorder.  How does that compare with the incidence among women of other major diseases in America?

  • Each year approximately the same number of women -- 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 205,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer.  (National Cancer Institute)

In fact, more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for men and women 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 disorders are.

My favorite number?  More women will suffer from a postpartum mood disorder than men will be diagnosed with new cases of impotence (617,715) 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 don't PPMDs get the same attention from pharmaceutical companies?  Why doesn't society work as hard to eliminate the stigma of postpartum mental illness?

This really is a big problem, and deserves much more attention that it's getting.


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