With the help of a new app, researchers are hoping to understand more about the causes of postnatal depression and postnatal psychosis. And they're currently looking for mums to take part in their study.
Lead by Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment (PACT), an international team of clinicians and scientists (including researchers from Queensland Brain Institute in Brisbane) have launched a free iOS app called PPD ACT.
Available on iPhone and iPads in the US and Australia and coming soon to the UK, the app is part of Apple's ResearchKit, a platform that allows medical researchers to gather data from around the globe.
With data collected from PPD ACT, the researchers hope to discover more about the genetic basis of postnatal depression (PND) and postnatal psychosis. Why do some women experience these illnesses when others don't? It's critical information the team hope will improve the detection, prevention and treatment of these conditions.
Mothers are eligible to participate in the study if they're over 18 and have suffered from either PND or postnatal psychosis. And it doesn't matter how long ago either; mothers currently being treated and those who were affected years ago all qualify to take part.
There are two aspects to the data collection. Part one asks mothers to answer a series of questions about childbirth and any postnatal symptoms of anxiety or depression. The questions are taken from the widely used Edinburg Postnatal Depression Scale.
In the second part of the study (described on the PACT site as "still under consideration" in Australia), participants with scores above a certain threshold will be asked for a saliva sample. The researchers explain, "Collecting saliva is just spitting in a tube, and can be done in your home. The sample gets sent back by mail. We can get DNA from your saliva and will use it to 'scan' your DNA."
DNA samples will be used to measure 500,000 or more genetic markers or "signposts." The research team note that if they can do this for tens of thousands of women, they'll be able to identify the genetic differences in mothers who suffered from postnatal depression or psychosis. In fact, the goal is to get more than 100,000 mums to participate from around the world – the largest study of postnatal depression and psychosis to date.
All participants will be de-identified and provided with a code to protect their privacy.
In Australia, more than one in seven new mothers are affected by postnatal depression. And, after the birth of my son, I was one of the 1-2 in every 1000 women diagnosed with postnatal psychosis.
It's why, when I heard about the app, I jumped to participate, downloading and completing the questionnaire. Due to the severity of my illness, the feedback I received indicated that I'll be eligible to complete Stage 2 (or the "spit kit") if it's made available here in Australia.
"Postnatal depression can have a devastating effect on the lives of mothers and families, and we know that there is an increased risk if a woman has a family history of PPD," said Professor Naomi Wray, of Queensland Brain institute, who is leading the Australian arm of the study. "By downloading the app, and taking part in a survey which only takes about 15 minutes, women can make an enormous difference to our knowledge of the underlying causes and, ultimately, improve women's lives," she said in a statement.
If you are distressed you can access help from the PANDA website or by phoning the National PANDA helpline on 1300 726 306.