Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings

Katherine L. Wisner*, Dorothy K Y Sit, Mary C. McShea, David M. Rizzo, Rebecca A. Zoretich, Carolyn L. Hughes, Heather F. Eng, James F. Luther, Stephen R. Wisniewski, Michelle L. Costantino, Andrea L. Confer, Eydie L. Moses-Kolko, Christopher S. Famy, Barbara H. Hanusa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

607 Scopus citations


Importance: The period prevalence of depression among women is 21.9% during the first postpartum year; however, questions remain about the value of screening for depression. Objectives: To screen for depression in postpartum women and evaluate positive screen findings to determine the timing of episode onset, rate and intensity of self-harm ideation, and primary and secondary DSM-IV disorders to inform treatment and policy decisions. Design: Sequential case series of women who recently gave birth. Setting: Urban academic women's hospital. Participants: During the maternity hospitalization, women were offered screening at 4 to 6 weeks post partum by telephone. Screen-positive women were invited to undergo psychiatric evaluations in their homes. Main Outcomes and Measures: A positive screen finding was an Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) score of 10 or higher. Self-harm ideation was assessed on EPDS item 10: "The thought of harming myself has occurred to me" (yes, quite often; sometimes; hardly ever; never). Screen-positive women underwent evaluation with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV for Axis I primary and secondary diagnoses. Results: Ten thousand mothers underwent screening, with positive findings in 1396 (14.0%); of these, 826 (59.2%) completed the home visits and 147 (10.5%) completed a telephone diagnostic interview. Screen-positive women were more likely to be younger, African American, publicly insured, single, and less well educated. More episodes began post partum (40.1%), followed by during pregnancy (33.4%) and before pregnancy (26.5%). In this population, 19.3% had self-harm ideation. All mothers with the highest intensity of self-harm ideation were identified with the EPDS score of 10 or higher. The most common primary diagnoses were unipolar depressive disorders (68.5%), and almost two-thirds had comorbid anxiety disorders. A striking 22.6% had bipolar disorders. Conclusions and Relevance: The most common diagnosis in screen-positive women was major depressive disorder with comorbid generalized anxiety disorder. Strategies to differentiate women with bipolar from unipolar disorders are needed. Trial Registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00282776.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)490-498
Number of pages9
JournalJAMA Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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