Perinatal mood disorders affect a large number of women and families in the U.S. According to the CDC, 11 to 20 percent of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression (PPD) symptoms. And yet, there is still so much unknown about these mood disorders, why some women are more prone to experiencing them, yet not others, and how to best help those affected. That is why a new study and its potential impact is so groundbreaking.
Researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine are teaming up with the consortium Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment (PACT) to launch the largest ever study of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The study, which will have an international reach, is also one of the first PPD related studies to utilize smartphones to help gather data.
Women can access the study via PACT’s app “PPD ACT,” which is currently available in the App Store as a free download for iOS devices in Australia and the U.S. and will be available soon in the U.K. The app surveys women to identify those who have had symptoms of PPD. Based on survey responses, the app will invite some women to provide DNA samples so that researchers can study the genes of those impacted by PPD.
“Between 12 and 23 percent of women will experience symptoms of depression after pregnancy, and this app will help us better understand why,” Dr. Meltzer-Brody, faculty member of UNC School of Medicine and director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, told SheKnows. She continued, “We hope that women will share their experiences so that we can more effectively diagnose and treat PPD in the future.”
One of the PPD ACT’s partners is Postpartum Progress, an international nonprofit organization that has spearheaded a number of significant initiatives surrounding PPD. Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, explained to SheKnows why this app and the resulting data is so important.
“I want to see women have the opportunity to share their experience and their data to help move science forward. You never know what will come from a study like this… are there specific genetic markers? Are there not? What matters to me is that we will, as survivors and those currently struggling, be putting forth the effort to find out. In the end I do hope information is identified that will lead to quicker identification and better treatments, and possibly even prevention. I think it’s worth doing what we’re doing to see if we can make that happen.”
According to the researchers, the app is intended for women 18 years or older who have previously given birth and believe they may have experienced or are currently experiencing signs or symptoms of PPD, such as anxiety, depression, guilt, irritability or extreme sadness. While an iPhone is needed to access the free app, UNC is donating iPads to select perinatal clinics in the U.S. for use by their patients during office visits.
Stone’s one message to moms about how they can help? “I think the most important thing is that to get good answers we need more moms. If you had or have PPD or anxiety or psychosis? If you felt it was one of the worst experiences of your life? If you can’t stand the idea of having more mothers, future generations of mothers, continuing to have to suffer for months on end as they do now? Download an app. Contribute to the science yourself. Be part of the story of making change.”