Quick, guess which number is higher: the number of people who sprain an ankle each year, the number of people who have a stroke, or the number of women who experience postpartum depression?
In so many books, articles and news programs, you hear the statistic — approximately 10 to 15% of women suffer from postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs), including postpartum depression (PPD), postpartum anxiety/OCD and postpartum psychosis. What bothers me about that statistic is that it holds no meaning for most people, and because of that I think these illnesses get much less funding and attention than so many of the other prevalent illnesses that strike Americans. As a result, I decided to do a bit of quick, non-scientific research to look at the real numbers and to help people understand the real impact that postpartum depression is having on the women of our country.
There were approximately 4.3 million live births in the United States in 2007. This statistic does not include fetal losses, including miscarriages and stillbirths. The National Vital Statistics Report indicates that the total number of clinically recognized pregnancies is around 6.4 million. This is important to know, because all postpartum women are susceptible to postpartum depression, regardless of the pregnancy's outcome.
So let's split the difference between the high (20%) and low estimates of PPD (11%) and say that an average of 15% of all postpartum women in the US suffer, as the CDC reported in its 2008 PRAMS research. And let's use the number of clinically recognized pregnancies and not live births. This would mean that each year approximately 950,000 women are suffering postpartum depression.
BUT, did you know the CDC's research only reflected self-reported cases of postpartum depression? How many women do you think did not mention they had PPD out of fear or shame? Should we increase the estimate of sufferers to 17% or 20%?
ALSO, these numbers don't take into account women who may have suffered other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like PPOCD or postpartum psychosis. Should that make the numbers go even higher?
I'd argue that the number of new mothers who experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders is in the 20% range, which would mean around 1.3 million.
How does that compare with the incidence among women of other major diseases in America?
Each year less women — approximately 800,000 — will get diabetes. (Nat'l Diabetes Information Clearinghouse)
Each year about 300,000 women suffer a stroke. (Centers for Disease Control)
Each year approximately 205,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. (National Cancer Institute)
In fact, more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses this year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy. This is not to minimize these other terrible diseases, of course. I simply want to illustrate just how prevalent postpartum mood disorders are.
Dr. Ruta Nonacs of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School adds, "Postpartum depression is far more common than gestational diabetes. All women receiving prenatal care are screened for diabetes, but how many pregnant and postpartum women are screened for depression? PPD is also more common than preterm labor, low birth weight, pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure; in other words, PPD is the most common complication associated with pregnancy and childbirth."
Let me leave you with one last thought: More women will suffer from PPD than men will be diagnosed with new cases of impotence (617,715) this year. Yet you wouldn't know it, considering the overabundance of erectile dysfunction (ED) ads and people falling all over themselves to discuss ED openly. Why doesn't PPD get the same attention from pharmaceutical companies?
Why doesn't society work as hard to eliminate the stigma of postpartum mental illness? Why aren't more companies concerned about PPD?
This really is a big problem, and deserves much more attention than it's getting.