Beating a Bad Case of the 'Baby Blues'
O'Hara's team enrolled 120 women with severe postpartum depression. Half received 12 weeks of interpersonal psychotherapy and the other half were put on a 12-week waiting list to receive the treatment. This served as the comparison group. The women who underwent psychotherapy had significantly greater improvements than the untreated group on all study measures. On average, their depression got much better -- and about 40% of the women completely recovered.
"In the treated group, a goodly proportion simply recovered, and a lot got better but didn't have a complete recovery," O'Hara says. "Our aim in this study was really to establish interpersonal psychotherapy as a treatment for postpartum depression. It does indicate that other psychotherapies will have the same effect. ... When women contacted me from out of state during study enrollment, I would say to them, 'Find a competent mental health professional and you will get pretty good care even if they don't do interpersonal psychotherapy.'"
Postpartum depression expert Marie J. Hayes, PhD, says that modern society fails to support women in the year following the birth of a child. The University of Maine psychologist, who was not involved in the O'Hara study, says the study findings support her theory that lack of social support is the reason why more women than ever before are developing postpartum depression.
"There has been an erosion of support to the point that women are actually alienated just after giving birth," Hayes tells WebMD. "So women are left with the same level of responsibility as [before giving birth], but with additional needs for physical and psychological recovery as well as the need to establish the entire nutritional support for the infant. ... What's going on is that [doing the right things as a mother] is something the brain is predisposed to do ... but this can be derailed in an environment that is not presenting the proper cues of social and physical support."
Interpersonal psychotherapy, Hayes says, addresses part of this problem by helping women get some of the social support they need after the birth of a child. However, she says that it takes care of only one part of the problem.