UNC researchers present study about family history and postpartum mental health at national APA Conference

Anna Bauer, PhD, and Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, were chosen by the APA to present findings from their recently published study about a new mother’s risk of postpartum psychiatric conditions when she has an immediate family member with a psychiatric disorder.

UNC researchers present study about family history and postpartum mental health at national APA Conference click to enlarge Drs. Anna Bauer and Samantha Meltzer-Brody

May 7, 2018

Contact: Carleigh Gabryel, 919-864-0580, carleigh.gabryel@unchealth.unc.edu

New York, NY – The study, published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that a new mother’s risk of postpartum psychiatric conditions increases when she has an immediate family member with a psychiatric disorder, especially bipolar disorder. The increased risk occurs regardless of whether the immediate relative is male or female. Lead author Anna Bauer, PhD, postdoctoral research associate, and contributing author Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH, director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at the UNC Center for Women's Mood Disorders, discussed their findings at a media briefing during the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in New York City.

Family history of psychiatric disorders is a known risk factor for developing psychiatric disorders at any time in life, and having a mother or sister with a history of postpartum psychiatric disorders increases a woman’s risk for developing them. Less is known about the influence of family history of other psychiatric disorders and the influence of male family members’ psychiatric history, particularly in women without a history of mental health problems. The postpartum period is a vulnerable period for the onset of psychiatric disorders.

The “Familiality of Psychiatric Disorders and Risk of Postpartum Psychiatric Episodes” study looked at how family history of psychiatric disorder is associated with postpartum psychiatric disorders in mothers with and without prior psychiatric conditions. The researchers, including UNC’s Patrick Sullivan, MD, director of the Center for Psychiatric Genomics, looked at records of birth and psychiatric treatment in a national population-based cohort in Denmark. The study involved more than 6,600 new mothers who experienced a psychiatric disorder within a year after delivery (including 2,603 within six months and 4,085 within a year).

The study was unique in looking at whether the familial risk varies depending on the sex of the family member. They found that a history of psychiatric disorders in male relatives was just as influential in the risk of postpartum psychiatric disorders as a history of psychiatric disorders in female relatives. The risk for postpartum psychiatric conditions was greater when there was a family history of bipolar disorder than for family history of depression or psychiatric conditions more broadly. The association with family history was stronger among women with no history of psychiatric disorders.

“The importance of screening for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders has been increasingly recognized in recent years, but most of these efforts rely on identifying women after they become symptomatic,” said lead author Bauer. “We hope that additional information about family history in any first-degree relative – for example, bipolar disorder in a brother – can help clinicians predict who may benefit from increased surveillance before symptoms emerge, in order to intervene as early as possible.”

Current practice guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists do not include family history as a consideration for postpartum mental health conditions. The authors conclude that family history of psychiatric disorder is highly valuable information in identifying women at risk for postpartum psychiatric illness. Information about psychiatric history in fathers and brothers is as important as a history of postpartum psychiatric disorders in mothers and sisters, the researchers note.

National Institute of Mental Health funded this work.

UNC School of Medicine
The UNC School of Medicine (SOM) is the state’s largest medical school graduating approximately 180 new physicians each year. It is consistently ranked among the top medical schools in the US and is among the most well funded for its research efforts.  More than half of the school’s 1,700 faculty members served as principal investigators on active research awards in 2016. Two UNC SOM faculty members have earned Nobel Prize awards.

American Psychiatric Association
The American Psychiatric Association, founded in 1844, is the oldest medical association in the country. The APA is also the largest psychiatric association in the world with more than 37,800 physician members specializing in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses. APA’s vision is to ensure access to quality psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. For more information please visit www.psychiatry.org.

Share This: