What is postpartum depression, and how many moms will get it?
Postpartum depression is a mental illness that is the most common of all potential childbirth complications, physical and mental.
What is postpartum depression’s prevalence?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11 to 20% of women who give birth each year have postpartum depression symptoms. If you settled on an average of 15% of four million live births in the US annually, this would mean at least 600,000 women get PPD each year.
How does the incidence of postpartum depression in the United States compare to other women’s illnesses?
Multiple sclerosis –> 7-10,000 new cases among women annually
Lupus –> 15,000 new cases among women annually
HIV/AIDS –> 45-50,000 total new cases annually
Breast cancer –> 230-250,000 women diagnosed annually
Alzheimer’s –> 250,000 new cases among women annually
Stroke –> 342,000 new cases among women annually
Postpartum depression –> 600,000 women annually minimum
Diabetes –> 1 million new cases among women annually
In fact, more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in a year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, lupus, and epilepsy.
You might be interested to know, however, what’s missing in the CDC’s estimates. Women who miscarry or whose babies are stillborn are equally susceptible to postpartum depression, but aren’t included in the CDC data. So if you consider that 15% of the 6.4 million women who have clinically recognized pregnancies annually will get PPD, that’s 960,000 women each year.
Not only that, but the CDC statistics also are based on the input of women in 17 states who self-reported symptoms of postpartum depression. Given the shame associated with PPD, it’s possible that some women didn’t report symptoms, while others felt that the symptoms described didn’t match their experience given that many women have postpartum anxiety, OCD, PTSD or psychosis. Additionally, multiple studies have confirmed that in high-poverty areas the rate of PPD is as high as 25%. We’d argue it’s more likely that an average of 20% of women who have clinically recognized pregnancies each year will have PPD, or 1.2 million women.
No big deal right? We know how to treat it. Women know to get help.
In our own survey, the majority of women who responded told us they received little to no education in their childbirth classes or from their obstetricians about postpartum depression and related illnesses, and definitely not enough to know how to recognize all the symptoms or know where to go to get help. Most moms actually don’t know what postpartum depression is — the various ways it manifests, how they will feel, what may be causing it and how it can impact their families.
What’s worse, only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever receive professional treatment. This means nearly 1 million women each year never get the help they need. When women are not treated for PPD, research shows they are less able to bond with their children or care for them properly. They are more likely to medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs. And they may end up with lifelong chronic depression or anxiety.
Yet it’s not just 1 million women we should be worried about. It’s also 1 million children who are in harm’s way. We know postpartum depression affects children’s development and puts them at a higher risk of future psychiatric illness. In fact, maternal depression during infancy has a bigger impact on a child’s development than later exposure to maternal mental illness (Essex 2001, Moehler 2006).
Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth, putting about 2 million Americans at risk each and every year. Or if you prefer the more conservative estimate from the CDC, approximately 1 million Americans at risk. Either way, it’s an epidemic.