A popular year-old app, launched by the UNC School of Medicine and designed to help new moms with postpartum depression and uncover causes of the disorder, can now reach even more women across the country and around the world.
UNC recently launched an Android version of PPD ACT, a mobile app-based study with an iOS version that's already been downloaded 14,000 times - exceeding expectations. Versions of the app also are now available in both Australia and Canada.
The free app screens new moms and connects those suffering with postpartum depression with resources. It also helps to further the understanding of why some women suffer from postpartum depression and others do not – information that's vital to researchers who are working on effective treatments.
'Common complication of child birth'
Postpartum depression and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are one of the most common and devastating complications of child birth, said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders and lead researcher for the study.
About 10 percent to 20 percent of women who give birth suffer from what can be a debilitating disorder. Symptoms include loss of enjoyment or pleasure; difficulty concentrating; change in appetite; excessive crying; severe anxiety and panic attacks; and thoughts of death or suicide. "Suicide," said Meltzer-Brody, "is one of the greatest causes of maternal mortality."
Symptoms can appear months after birth and can last for months - or longer - if a new mom doesn't seek treatment. The good news, Meltzer-Brody said, is that it can get better. "Treatment makes a huge difference for women and their families," she said.
The app lets users do several things. New moms, concerned that they may be suffering from postpartum depression, can screen themselves from the privacy of their own home and get information about where they can find help. Meltzer-Brody said many women have sought treatment after answering questions on the app.
"We've heard from clinicians and patients around the country who said, "I heard about this, I downloaded it for free … and I got feedback and realized that the things I was suffering with were not normal and I needed help ... and that’s why I’m here,'" she said.
The app also dives deeper, seeking moms who may have experienced postpartum depression after the birth of their child two weeks ago - or decades ago. The U.S. version of the app includes a section which will help researchers better understand the burden that PPD has on patients’ quality of life, maternal function, bonding and use of health care services, according to a press release.
Through another part of the app, women also can agree to take part in a DNA screening of mothers who have had postpartum depression. Once they agree to participate, UNC sends out a spit kit, which requires them to simply spit in a tube and return the sample, for free, in a mailer that's provided. In the first year, 5,000 women have agreed to take part in the genetic study.
Meltzer-Brody hopes to eventually gather 50,000 samples. That kind of number is possible now that the app is available to both iOS and Android users, along with women outside of the United States. Meltzer-Brody said she's working to expand to other countries, including Denmark. A Spanish language version will be released soon.
The genetic study, Meltzer-Brody said, "is about helping us understand what causes it and develop new treatment and new ways for screening to prevent suffering moving forward."
It's also making it possible for many women to speak up about the suffering they experienced after the birth of their child. According to one study, the "vast majority" of postpartum women with depression are not treated or identified, according to an article in Psychology Today.
"In a large sense, we think the PPD ACT app can be empowering for women," she said. "For the first time, it provides a chance to share their voice and opinion about a disease that is often so stigmatizing and underrecognized."
Android users in the United States and Australia will be able to download PPD ACT from Google Play. The app continues to be available for iPhone users as a free download from the App Store in the United States, Australia, and, now, available in Canada. More information about postpartum depression and the PPD ACT app is on pactforthecure.com.