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Release: Sept. 24, 2001

UI researchers receive $1.9 million grant to study postpartum depression

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Having a baby can bring many joys, but postpartum depression can also affect nearly 10 percent of mothers within the first year of giving birth. University of Iowa researchers who study the problem have received a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate how psychotherapy delivered in the community can help women with the condition. The grant went into effect Sept. 1.

Postpartum depression is both underdiagnosed and undertreated, said Scott Stuart, M.D., UI associate professor of psychiatry and psychology and one of the study's principal investigators. He and co-investigator Michael O'Hara, Ph.D., UI professor of psychology and associate dean of research and development in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, have previously collaborated on clinical research regarding depression during pregnancy and the postpartum.

Postpartum depression is similar to other depressions and includes symptoms such as low mood, lack of energy, decreased sleep or appetite, loss of pleasure in life, and low self-esteem. In severe cases, it can lead to thoughts of suicide.

"We found in our previous research that postpartum depression often is not recognized by the women who experience it or by the people who see the women for post-delivery follow-up treatment," Stuart said.

The study will focus on how effectively therapists in private practice can deliver treatment to women with postpartum depression. The treatment has been studied in an academic setting, where it worked well, Stuart said.

"Psychotherapy is a time-limited treatment that focuses on a woman's transition into parenthood or into the postpartum period," Stuart said. "The therapy focuses on the woman's relationships with her significant other and child or children. It also helps each woman develop more social support."

If the researchers determine that the therapy can effectively be used in the community, the next step will be to train more physicians, psychologists and other mental health professionals to use the treatment in clinical settings in the community, Stuart said.

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