Mental illness may up risk of postpartum suicide

NEW YORK Mon Aug 18, 2008 4:21pm EDT

A woman and her child stroll along the Bund in Shanghai August 24, 2004. REUTERS/China Photos

A woman and her child stroll along the Bund in Shanghai August 24, 2004.

Credit: Reuters/China Photos

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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - New mothers with a history of depression or other psychiatric disorders appear more likely than other women to attempt suicide soon after giving birth, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among nearly 1,800 women who recently gave birth, those with a history of a psychiatric disorder were 27 times more likely to attempt suicide in the year after having their baby.

Similarly, women with a history of substance abuse had a six-fold increase in their risk of attempted suicide.

Postpartum suicide is rare, but the new findings point to a group of women who may be at greatest risk, the researchers note in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Women, their families and their doctors should be aware that past psychiatric disorders and substance abuse are risk factors for postpartum suicide, lead researcher Dr. Katherine A. Comtois, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told Reuters Health.

The findings are based on hospital records from women who gave birth in Washington State between 1992 and 2001. The researchers identified 355 women who were hospitalized for a suicide attempt in the year after giving birth; they matched each of these women with another four who had given birth in the same year but did not attempt suicide.

Overall, Comtois and her colleagues found, the risk of postpartum suicide was markedly higher among women who'd been hospitalized with a psychiatric disorder, substance abuse problem or both 5 years before giving birth.

Such diagnoses are "clearly important risk factors" of which families and medical providers should be aware, Comtois said.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently recommended that women be screened for depression and other "psychosocial risk factors" during prenatal care, Comtois and her colleagues note in the report.

"Future studies," they write, "should evaluate the effectiveness of screening for psychiatric and substance use disorders on decreasing adverse outcomes such as suicide attempts during the postpartum period."

SOURCE: American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, August 2008.

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