Sunday, July 12, 2009

Even without Brooke Shields, the postpartum depression debate rages on

by Gracie Remington

In the latest issue of TIME magazine, Robert McNamara (presumably not the Robert McNamara who recently passed on, but who knows?) discusses the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act which, if it passes the Senate, will authorize the funding of research on postpartum depression and community outreach, including expanding services provided to mothers suffering from the disease. Although seemingly beneficial on all fronts, the bill itself has inspired much controversy due to worries over the increased medicalization of motherhood.

The current version of the Act, while not specifically promoting PPD testing, is expected to prompt greater regularity of screenings for the disease. Those opposing the bill’s passage contend that mental health screenings frequently produce false positives and will only prompt over-medication, a coup for drug companies but ineffective for new mothers. Amy Philo, a mother interviewed in the article, discusses the extreme suicidal tendencies she endured after being prescribed Zoloft from her doctor, who determined that Philo suffered from PPD after a brief conversation. Additionally, psychologists have argued that the greatest indicator of PPD lies in a given patient’s mental health history, not giving birth. Those who have suffered from depression prior to having children are more likely to suffer from PPD.

This is obviously a very complex issues with valid points on both sides. Funding increases for PPD research, screenings, and treatment are incredibly important, but increased resources needs to be met with increased vigilance to avoid improper treatment. PPD isn’t something that can be properly diagnosed after a one-minute conversation with a patient, nor can someone diagnosed with PPD be left with a bottle of pills and no form of guidance. Ideally, future research in this area will allow psychologists to better pinpoint the causes of PPD and thus better screen and medicate those affected. For now, however, we need to be vigilant in preventing the over-medicalization of women and of motherhood.

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