Health Team

Phone app helps identify, treat new moms at risk of depression

Posted October 6, 2016 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 6, 2016 6:13 p.m. EDT

Giving birth should be a joyful time for a new mother, but one in eight women who give birth are affected by post-partum depression.

The reasons behind the depression, though, are not well understood.

A new national study is using social media to help identify women at risk.

All women want to feel happy after they bring their new baby home. But some begin to experience serious mood and anxiety symptoms, and they can't understand why.

"But it is something that affects many, many women and often there's so much stigma around mental illness, people suffer silently," said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, the director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the University of North Carolina.

Meltzer-Brody says for some women, it can lead to suicidal thoughts unless help is made available early on.

"All women should be screened during pregnancy and post-partum for mood and anxiety symptoms," Meltzer-Brody said. "Unfortunately, that doesn't happen."

She hopes a simple questionnaire on an iPhone app will help find women at risk of post-partum depression.

The app is called PPD ACT, a key tool in a national study. It asks how many times a woman has been pregnant, and it will ask participants if they fit into known high risk categories: a history of depression, past experience with post-partum depression and significant adverse life events or stresses.

Once women enroll in the study through the phone app, the National Institutes of Health provide for spit sample kits to be sent to each participant.

"This then allows us to do genotyping on women to understand the genetic signature, which allows us to understand what causes this and find new ways to screen and prevent and treat," Meltzer-Brody said.

Researchers hope to attract more than 50,000 women to the study for the best chance of understanding the illness and offering more effective interventions for the women who suffer.

The Walk for Hope, which raises money for this type of research, is Sunday, Oct. 9 starting at the Angus Barn.

The run or hike goes through Umstead Park and finishes with a lunch at the Angus Barn.