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Study: For Some, Postpartum Depression Never Really Ends

Postpartum depression may last longer for some
Photograph by Getty Images/Purestock

According to a new report in the January Harvard Review of Psychiatry, postpartum symptoms may fade with time; but for 30 to 50 percent of women affected, it's replaced by a chronic depression that lasts even longer. (How's that for uplifting news?) As a result, researchers are urging women with postpartum depression to seek the support of friends and family, as well as medical professionals, as soon as possible—especially since a mom's depression can impact her baby's development tremendously.

"Families with mothers suffering from postpartum depression need the engagement of clinicians who are sensitive to the signs of the depression potentially becoming chronic," reads the research review written by Nicole Vliegen, Sara Casalin and Patrick Luyten at the University of Leuven, Belgium. The long-running research was conducted from 1985 to 2012, focusing on the course postpartum depression took for many women over the span of 25 years. The data researchers drew came via recorded follow-up visits with the women over time.

While all follow-ups showed the women were displaying a decrease in postpartum symptoms, their scores still sat above the cutoff points for depression. In fact, a whopping 50 percent of them remained depressed for a year or longer, while 30 percent were still depressed for up to three years after giving birth.

In total, the median rate of chronic depression in all studies combined was an alarming 38 percent.

So what's behind it all? Researchers aren't entirely sure. But they did look at other factors that may play a role. Most notably, they found that younger mothers, women with a lower income and minorities all had a higher risk of becoming depressed. But that's not all: bad spousal or partner relationships, a history of depression or sexual abuse and other personality issues were also factors.

The study's researchers found this most troubling because of the known negative impacts postpartum depression can have on the child.

"Because PPD has significant consequences for the baby, for the depressed mother, and for the early relationship between mother and child, knowledge about prolonged changes in the mental health of mothers with PPD may not only improve our understanding of the course of PPD, but also inform prevention and intervention strategies," the review noted.

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