Depression, Partner Conflict Raise Suicide Risk for Pregnant Women, New Moms

FRIDAY Dec. 2, 2011 -- Major depression and conflicts with intimate partners increase the risk of suicide among pregnant women and new mothers, a new study indicates.

"We have a more complete picture now of who these women are and what led up to these tragic events," study author Dr. Katherine Gold, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a university news release. "These deaths ripple through families and communities and cause a lot of sorrow and devastation."

She and her colleagues analyzed 2,083 suicides among women aged 15 to 54 that were recorded over five years in the U.S. National Violent Death Reporting System.

More than half of the women who killed themselves had a known mental health diagnosis. Nearly half were in a depressed mood prior to their suicide.

"Previous research has shown that depressive disorders affect 14 to 23 percent of pregnant and postpartum women and anxiety disorders affect 10 to 12 percent," senior study author Dr. Christie Palladino, an obstetrician/gynecologist with the Education Discovery Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University, said in the news release.

"We've known that major depression is a factor in suicide for a long time," she said. "But this data tells us, for example, that pregnant and postpartum women had a much higher incidence of conflicts with intimate partners than their counterparts."

The study also found that new mothers who committed suicide were more likely to be depressed in the two weeks before they killed themselves.

Hispanic women were far more likely to commit suicide while pregnant (10 percent of such suicides) or within a year of pregnancy (9 percent of such suicides), compared to when they were not pregnant (4 percent of suicides among non-pregnant women).

The study appears online ahead of print publication in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

"As a society, we tend to avoid talking about suicide," Gold said. "But it's important to try to understand and talk about risk factors if we are going to address suicide from a public health perspective."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about suicide prevention.

Posted: December 2011


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