Suicidal ideation in depressed postpartum women: Associations withchildhood trauma, sleep disturbance and anxiety

Dorothy Sit*, James Luther, Daniel Buysse, John L. Dills, Heather Eng, Michele Okun, Stephen Wisniewski, Katherine L. Wisner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

43 Scopus citations


Background: Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in postpartum women. Identifying modifiable factors related to suicide risk in mothers after delivery is a public health priority. Our study aim was to examine associations between suicidal ideation (SI) and plausible risk factors (experience of abuse in childhood or as an adult, sleep disturbance, and anxiety symptoms) in depressed postpartum women. Methods: This secondary analysis included 628 depressed mothers at 4-6 weeks postpartum. Diagnosis was confirmed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV. We examined SI from responses to the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale-EPDS item 10; depression levels on the Structured Interview Guide for the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, Atypical Depression Symptoms (SIGH-ADS); plus sleep disturbance and anxiety levels with subscales from the EPDS and SIGH-ADS items on sleep and anxiety symptoms. Results: Of the depressed mothers, 496 (79%) 'never' had thoughts of self-harm; 98 (15.6%) 'hardly ever'; and 34 (5.4%) 'sometimes' or 'quite often'. Logistic regression models indicated that having frequent thoughts of self-harm was related to childhood physical abuse (odds ratio-OR=1.68, 95% CI=1.00, 2.81); in mothers without childhood physical abuse, having frequent self-harm thoughts was related to sleep disturbance (OR=1.15, 95% CI=1.02, 1.29) and anxiety symptoms (OR=1.11, 95% CI=1.01, 1.23). Discussion: Because women with postpartum depression can present with frequent thoughts of self-harm and a high level of clinical complexity, conducting a detailed safety assessment, that includes evaluation of childhood abuse history and current symptoms of sleep disturbance and anxiety, is a key component in the management of depressed mothers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-104
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychiatric Research
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Anxiety
  • Childhood abuse
  • Postpartum depression
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Suicidal ideation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry

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