More than the Baby Blues

Health providers should be alert for suicide risk among pregnant women and new mothers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Only a small percentage of women who take their own lives are pregnant or have recently become mothers, but one in five to ten pregnant and postpartum women have depressive disorders.

The frequent interactions that these women have with the health care system, however, may provide good opportunities for health care providers to be alert for risk factors and intervene if necessary.

"Watch for signs of depression during pregnancy."

Katherine J. Gold, M.D., M.S.W., M.S., at University of Michigan Medical School led a team that analyzed five years of suicide data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, identifying 2,083 suicides among women of child-bearing age to look for links between pregnancy and suicide or depression.

More than half of these women who killed themselves had a previously known mental health diagnosis - mostly mood disorder, affecting 95 percent of them. Nearly half were known to be depressed before their suicides.

Postpartum women were also more likely to have been identified as having a depressed mood in the two weeks before their suicides than other women. Researchers also found similarities between women that did not vary significantly by pregnancy status.

For example, 56 percent of all suicide victims had a known mental health diagnosis, 32 percent had attempted suicide before, and 28 percent had an alcohol or substance abuse issue at the time of death.

“Depression and substance use are risk factors for everyone, including pregnant and postpartum women,” Gold said. “We have a more complete picture now of who these women are and what led up to these tragic events.”

Christie Palladino, M.D., M.Sc., an obstetrician/gynecologist with Georgia Health Sciences University’s Education Discovery Institute and senior author of the study, added that pregnant and postpartum women had a much higher incidence of conflict with their intimate partners than other women.

The study also found that Hispanic women were far more likely to take their own lives while pregnant or within a year of pregnancy, than when not pregnant.

The findings were published in a recent issue of General Hospital Psychiatry.

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Review Date: 
December 5, 2011
Last Updated:
December 5, 2011