The prevalence of peripartum depression is high in physician mothers, with white physicians reporting higher adjusted rates than black physicians, and Asian physicians reporting lower receipt of treatment. Many of these mothers also endorse at least one stigmatizing belief about mental health conditions in physicians. This is according to a cross-sectional study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Members of an online Facebook community composed of female physicians who are also mothers were recruited for an anonymous survey on peripartum depression (n=5698). Respondents were asked about a history of peri- or postpartum depression, receipt of treatment, and personal stigmas surrounding mental health among physicians. Researchers examined the prevalence of self-reported peripartum depression in this population and compared prevalence and treatment rates between racial and ethnic groups.

Of the 25% of respondents who reported experiencing peripartum depression, 34% received pharmaceutical management, 25% received psychotherapy, and 40% received either therapy. In addition, 19% of participants reported only self-care management of peripartum depression, using activities such as exercise. Black physician mothers had a lower odds of reporting peripartum depression compared with white physician mothers in the adjusted analysis (odds ratio, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.44-0.97). This analysis also found that Asian physician mothers had a lower odds of receiving formal therapy (OR, 0.48; 95% CI, 0.32-0.73).

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Approximately 74% of physician mothers reported ≥1 stigmatizing belief regarding mental health conditions in physicians. Endorsing a stigmatizing belief was independently associated with a reduction in the odds of receiving treatment for peripartum depression (OR, 0.48; 95% CI, 0.37-0.65).

Limitations of the survey included the lack of a validated instrument for measuring peripartum depression and the reliance on self-reported measures.

Overall, the researchers contend that the study likely “underscores the need for further research into the prevalence of peripartum depression, and barriers to treatment, among physician mothers.”

Disclosure: A study author declared affiliations with the pharmaceutical industry. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.

Reference

Choo EK, Girgis C, Han CS, et al. High prevalence of peripartum depression among physician mothers: a cross-sectional study. Am J Psychiatry. 2019;176(9):763-764.