Depression that emerges around the time of pregnancy raises a woman’s risk for suicide sharply and for many years, new Swedish research shows.
The study found that a new mom’s odds for suicide soars seven-fold in the year after a diagnosis of perinatal depression — depression that arises just before, during or after a pregnancy.
The increase in risk isn’t limited to the short-term, however.
Between five to 18 years after delivery, the risk of suicide in women with perinatal depression was still more than double that of women unaffected by the illness, noted a team led by Dr. Songhao Lu of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
They published their findings Jan. 9 in JAMA Network Open.
According to background information supplied by Lu’s team, the period just after delivery of a new baby is a particularly dangerous time for suicide.
“In fact, 13% to 36% of maternal deaths are attributable to suicide,” the study authors noted. “The consequences are devastating to the newborn and the family.”
Many studies have already shown that suicide risks rise in the weeks and months after a woman suffers perinatal depression. But what about the much longer term?
In their study, Lu’s team analyzed Swedish national health data for 2001-2017. They compared the suicide rate of a group of almost 87,000 women diagnosed with perinatal depression to that of about 856,500 women who had not been diagnosed.
They found a sharp rise in suicide risk over the short- and long-term for women with perinatal depression. The study also found that the risk was largely unchanged after accounting for familial or genetic factors.
In addition, women without a history of any other psychiatric disorder were at higher risk for suicide compared to women who had other psychiatric issues, Lu’ s team found.
That suggests that it is the perinatal depression itself that is raising the risk for suicide, not other underlying mental health problems.
Overdose was by far the leading method of suicide, the report found.
“Given that these women are often prescribed antidepressants, health care clinicians should be alert to potential misuse of medications,” the investigators advised.
Prior research has found that up to 19% of women with postpartum depression said they thought about suicide, Lu’s group noted.
That, combined with the new data from this study, “suggest that vigilant clinical monitoring and interventions are needed for this vulnerable population to prevent such devastating events,” the study team said.
If you or a loved one is in mental health crisis immediate, 24/7 help is available at the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
There’s more on perinatal depression at the National Institute of Mental Health.
SOURCE: JAMA Network Open, Jan. 9, 2024
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