How technology can help fight perinatal depression

Perinatal mental illness affects between 7% and 20% of women worldwide, as well as men, but it is still surrounded by stigma and prejudice. The Covid-19 pandemic has not improved the situation. Is it time for technology to step in?

This content was published on May 21, 2021 – 06:00

with Ying Zhang

“Are you a new mother? But then why are you sad?” In most modern societies, becoming a mother is still considered the greatest gift that nature (herself often called “mother”) can give to a woman. If a person becomes pregnant or gives birth to a healthy and strong child, social dogma would like everyone to feel grateful, happy and full of zest for life.

However, this is not always the case. When parents are gripped by a sense of deep sadness, loneliness and melancholy, it is often very difficult to open up.

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Technologies offer a way out

Technology can provide light at the end of the tunnel for many women and men with perinatal mental disorders, but ignorant or unable to manage them. “After the birth of my twins, out of nowhere, I was totally overwhelmed by severe postpartum depression. Like many new moms, I fell through the cracks with the pressure of being a ‘perfect mother’ and didn’t seek treatment, “Sonali Mohanty Quantius, Founder of HaplomindExternal link, a digital platform for the management of self-diagnosis and treatment of perinatal depression, said my colleague Ying Zhang.External link

Ying reported on the story of this enterprising woman in a recent article; here is his summary:

After the birth of her twins, Pharmaceutical Executive Sonali Mohanty Quantius was totally overwhelmed by severe postpartum depression and suffered from it for 4 years. Recently she told me how she came up with the idea to develop a digital health diagnostic app – “Haplomind” to identify and help treat women with depression and anxiety at any time from pregnancy to pregnancy. the end of the first year after birth.

“Women can only overcome the stigma surrounding depressive disorders and discuss mental health issues with professionals if we create an easily accessible, secure and reliable virtual space.[… ]Screening and treatment for perinatal depression should be as common as routine physical exams during pregnancy and postpartum. “

What do you think? Can technology help struggling new parents? let’s talk about it External linkaround a (virtual) coffee.

Save the date: FemTech Summit

May is Maternal Mental Health Month. Want to learn more about the latest technology, research and strategies in women’s health? Don’t miss the FemTech SummitExternal link on May 26 and 27, an event organized by a team of students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ).

“Women of childbearing age are often excluded from clinical trials for fear that menstrual cycles and hormonal fluctuations act as ‘unnecessary’ and unpredictable variables,” says Oriana Kraft, medical student at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich ( ETHZ) and creator of the FemTech event. “It is important to set new standards. And it is crucial to do so for women’s health, by collecting the data necessary so that 50 percent of the population has access to the quality care they deserve.”

The FemTech Summit (May 26-27, 2021) brings together students, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors to discuss innovative solutions, research and strategies in women’s health. The event is organized by a team of students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH) led by Oriana Kraft and is free to attend.

A global phenomenon, exacerbated by the pandemic

Women most at risk are women in developing countries, where rates of perinatal mental disorders are higher, as reported by WHOExternal link. Perinatal mental illness is therefore a global phenomenon. In early May, the city of Los Angeles introduced a set of laws External linkto help women struggling with depression and other mental health issues, as around 80% of new mothers in town suffer from the “baby blues” and 20% suffer from perinatal depression.

In the Indian newspaper Indian Express, an obstetrics and gynecology expert from Bangalore gave practical advice on how to treat perinatal mental disorders in an article published a few days ago. External link
The pandemic has exacerbated this problem, subjecting mothers to a double burden of stress. According to a global surveyExternal link conducted by Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, pregnant women and new mothers reported high levels of depression and anxiety (31%), loneliness (53%) and post-traumatic stress (43%) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

How much do you think this disease weighs on new parents? How can we get rid of social stigma? Let me knowExternal link your opinion!

Treatment should involve the whole family

Men also suffer from perinatal mental disorders, but to a lesser extent than womenExternal link and with symptoms that are sometimes not directly related to depression. “Statistics can be hidden in the case of male perinatal depression,” says Annemarie Schumacher Dimech, president and co-founder of the Swiss non-profit Women’s Brain Project.External link (WBP), which aims to stimulate a global debate on gender differences in the brain and mental illness. Because of gender stereotypes, men generally have a harder time talking about their feelings, says Schumacher Dimech.

Annemarie Schumacher Dimech, President and Co-Founder of the Women’s Brain Project (WBP)

We met her to get a better picture of the phenomenon in Switzerland and around the world:

SWI Annemarie, why do you think perinatal depression is such a big problem?

Annemarie Schumacher Dimech: Maternal mental disorders are the most common complications during pregnancy and in the first year after birth. The most common illness is postpartum depression, which affects not only women but also entire families. In addition, maternal suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young mothers. Therefore, maternal mental health, especially in the perinatal phase, is an important topic for the WBP. In addition, there is a lack of clinical research on pregnant women in general and in particular on pregnant women with psychiatric disorders.

How widespread is perinatal depression in Switzerland?

ASD: Postpartum depression affects around 15% of Swiss women. Pro Mente SanaExternal link reports that one in 10 new mothers have symptoms of postpartum depression. This rate is comparable to that of other countries. But low-income countries have higher rates of postnatal depression and other mental illnesses during the perinatal period due to contributing factors, such as lack of access to health care, poverty, etc. In Switzerland, we are fortunate to have a health system that covers the visit of midwives, whose role is particularly important in the early detection of mental illness.

In addition, around 40% of new mothers in Switzerland experience the “baby blues” – feeling tearful, cranky, sad in the first two weeks after birth – which usually goes away without needing treatment.

Postnatal depression affects men as well, but it is a phenomenon that is not often talked about. How should he be treated in your opinion?

ASD: In our opinion, the treatment of postnatal depression should include the whole family. The partner (male or female), newborn and all children in the family need support, as postpartum depression affects the dynamics and sense of well-being of the whole family. We also need to raise awareness and address the stigma surrounding this disease.

There are specific factors that put men at risk for postpartum depression, for example unemployment. That said, the mechanism underlying this type of depression is different between men and women, as hormones play an important role in women, especially in the perinatal phase.

How to treat this disease?

ASD: Women with postpartum depression are often prescribed antidepressants, which normally work well. But this disease should not be treated like generic depression. Specific pharmaceutical treatments External linkfor postnatal depression are already approved in the United States but not in Europe.

Can new technologies such as AI help fight it?

ASD: -Technologies such as AI play an important role and their relevance is increasing. There are already apps that can monitor a person’s daily behavior to detect changes in mood and habits, for example if the person is going out or socializing less. AI is also very useful for performing more precise diagnostic tests and for early and personalized diagnoses.

Thanks for reading – if you want to know more about developments in Switzerland in the field of women’s health research, we have dedicated a whole collection of stories to it which you can see here.

As always, contact usExternal link if there are any topics in this area that you would like us to cover, or if you have any comments or questions.

About Margie Peters

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