UNC study turns to apps in effort to prevent postpartum depression

Courtesy of WNCN

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As many as 15 percent of women who have a baby suffer from postpartum depression, or PPD.

Now, researchers at UNC are trying to figure out the causes behind PPD and how to prevent it. They’re turning to social media to do that – using an app.

Michelle Schoepper is one of the app’s users. She suffered from PPD following the birth of her son.

“I wanted to be a mom for so long and we tried for a long time to have him and went through a loss before him,” Schoepper explained.

Despite a difficult labor and a stay in the NICU, Schoepper says life with a newborn went well at the beginning.

Several months in, it became more difficult. “You feel so much gratitude for having him, but at the same time you’re like ‘What am I doing wrong. Why is this so hard?’”

At first she attributed her feelings to lack of sleep, from working overnights and dealing with a colicky baby,  but  later sought help for postpartum depression.

With medication and counseling, she recovered. When a notice about a UNC-led study on postpartum depression popped up on her Facebook feed, she wanted to help.

Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody is the Director of the Perinatal psychiatry program at UNC. She’s working with researchers across the world looking for a genetic or biological cause for postpartum depression.

“We realized we’d need to enroll many thousands of women and we needed to find a novel way of doing this,” she said.

Researchers turned to smart phones and social media – asking any woman who has ever experienced PPD symptoms to download an app and answer a questionnaire. Some are then asked to mail in a sample of saliva.

Researchers hope to get data from 50,000 women across the world  and compare the DNA of those who suffer from PPD with those who don’t.

“If we can understand the genetic signature, if we can understand the underlying biology, we can find ways to identify prospectively ahead of time who would be at risk,” said Meltzer-Brody.

Then they could potentially prevent the condition or treat it before it becomes severe.

That’s what Schoepper is doing, now that she’s pregnant again.  She’s already getting counseling, hoping to avoid another bout with postpartum depression.

Click here to find out more about the study.

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