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Experts: More Focus on Postpartum Depression

Sept. 29, 2004 — Researchers called on Congress Wednesday to expand research into the causes of depression after pregnancy, saying they still do not understand how to prevent the illness in expectant mothers.

But efforts became mired in partisan politics, with pro-life lawmakers insisting that Congress also step up studies examining a possible connection between abortion and depression in women.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, as many as 10% of women experience moderate or severe depression shortly after giving birth, called postpartum depression. Studies point to several factors, including effects on the brain caused by fluctuating hormone levels before and after childbirth.

Treatment is often complicated because doctors remain reluctant to prescribe many commonly used antidepressants to pregnant or nursing mothers, says Nada L. Stotland, MD, professor of psychiatry and obstetrics gynecology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Stotland endorsed a bill that would order the National Institutes of Health to expand studies looking at causes and treatment of postpartum depression. The bill has circulated in Congress for three years but has seen no action.

“Obviously we need more help,” Stotland tells members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “To prevent it from happening in the first place … we don’t know how.”

“What I would like to see done is more information for doctors,” says Carol Blocker, a Chicago resident whose daughter committed suicide five months after the birth of a daughter in June 2001.

Funding for the research could eventually be paired with more money for studying the possible effects of abortion on women’s mental health. Congress is considering another bill that would expand the research.

A panel testifying on postpartum depression shared time with witnesses testifying about the potential dangers of abortion, a setup that annoyed pro-choice lawmakers. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of using a “political ploy” to tie abortion policies to pregnancy research.

Stotland, who is also a member of a pro-choice doctors’ group, says while women who have abortions may experience depression because of difficult life circumstances, research has found no causal connection between abortions and mental illness. Studies that show an increased likelihood of depression doesn’t take into account that depression is more likely in all pregnant women, not just those who have abortions, she says.

Abortion and Depression?

But pro-life lawmakers insist that growing anecdotal reports suggest that women may suffer severe emotional trauma after abortions.

“Women have the right to know about the long-term effects of abortion on their physical and mental well-being,” says Rep. Charles W. Pickering (R-Miss.).

Michaelene Fedenburg, president of an anti-abortion group known as the Life Resources Network, told lawmakers she became depressed and engaged in a variety of “self-destructive” behaviors following an abortion at age 18.

“I was also completely unprepared for the emotional fallout after the abortion,” she says.

It remains unclear whether either bill would be included in spending measures this year.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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