Self-Harm Rate Stresses Need for Depression Screening During Pregnancy

Of all 211 maternal deaths in Colorado between 2004 and 2012, 30% were attributed to self-harm
Of all 211 maternal deaths in Colorado between 2004 and 2012, 30% were attributed to self-harm

HealthDay News — In the past decade, self-harm has been the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths in Colorado, according to research published in the December issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The new findings are based on records of maternal deaths in Colorado between 2004 and 2012. They included both deaths during pregnancy or in the year afterward. Of all 211 maternal deaths in Colorado between 2004 and 2012, 30% were attributed to self-harm. That included suicides and drug overdoses – most often in the year after a woman gave birth. 

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Overall, 63 women died of suicide or a drug overdose – considered either accidental or "undetermined." The most commonly detected drugs were prescription opioids. Of the 63 women who died of self-harm, just over half (54%) had documented mental health diagnoses – including six women with a previous suicide attempt. Twenty-seven of the 63 women had been taking psychiatric medication when they became pregnant – mostly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Many of those women stopped taking the drugs.

It's not clear whether self-harm deaths are becoming more common, lead researcher Torri Metz, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Denver Health Medical Center, told HealthDay. Nor is it known whether other U.S. states are showing the same pattern, she said. But the results underscore the importance of screening pregnant women for depression. Guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists say that all women should be screened at least once for perinatal depression – symptoms that occur during pregnancy or in the first year after a woman gives birth. But it's not clear how often that actually happens in the real world, Metz said.

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