Swipe and spit for postpartum depression

28 September 2016

Does genetic susceptibility predispose women to postpartum depression? Researchers from The University of Queensland are calling on Australian mothers to help them find out.

UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience researcher Professor Naomi Wray and her team are seeking to study 2,000 Australian mothers who have experienced postpartum depression (PPD), also known as postnatal depression.

“We’re asking women who believe they have experienced postpartum depression after any birth to download the iOS mobile app, PPD Act, and complete a survey about their experiences with the condition, regardless of how long ago it happened,” Professor Wray said.

“Just 20 minutes of their time could help us develop better treatments for this debilitating condition, and even prevent postpartum disorders from happening in the first place.”

Women whose survey responses show evidence of previous or current postpartum depression will be issued a saliva kit to enable the research team to analyse DNA samples of sufferers.

Affecting more than 10 per cent of mothers worldwide, postpartum depression can have a devastating effect on individuals and their families, with symptoms including sadness, guilt, irritability, depression or disconnection.

Professor Wray said the study was part of a collaborative project involving research teams from the United States and United Kingdom, and aimed to understand why some women got postpartum depression and others did not.

“This project will help us understand more about the genetic basis of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis – knowledge that will be critical in developing more effective treatments for millions of women globally,” she said.

Brisbane mother Muira Taylor suffered postpartum depression after the birth of her much-longed-for baby.

She said she found it so debilitating that, within a few months, she could no longer recognise herself or her life.

“There remains a huge stigma around mental illness and this is perhaps amplified with PPD,” Ms Taylor said.

“There is enormous pressure on mothers in general and when a mother gets a mental illness there is an expectation that she ‘needs to get over it’ or to ‘start behaving appropriately’.

“Research into PPD is vital. It affects so many women, is such a devastating illness, and for many sufferers is totally unexpected.

“My hope is that the research will identify genes that predispose women to suffering this illness, and that will enable those women with that risk factor to prepare all of the necessary supports to assist them navigate through this experience.

For more information or to download the app, click here, search PPD ACT in the Apple Store, or email ppd-act@uq.edu.au.

Professor Wray is Co-director of the Centre for Neurogenetics and Statistical Genomics (CNSG), which is a joint venture between UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Queensland Brain Institute.

This study will be presented at the 2016 International Marcé Society for Perinatal Mental Health Conference in Melbourne, 26-28 September.

Media: IMB Communications, communications@imb.uq.edu.au.

Media note:

The following people are available for interview:

  • Australian-based (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) mothers who have participated in the study
  • Professor Naomi Wray (Statistical and psychiatric genetics), The Institute for Molecular Bioscience, UQ (20 September, and beyond)
  • Professor Samantha Meltzer-Brody (Psychiatrist), The University of North Carolina (22 and 23 September in Brisbane, 26 -28 in Melbourne)
  • Professor Jeanette Milgrom (Psychologist and Director of the Parent-Infant Research Institute), The University of Melbourne (September, except 26-28)
  • Adelaide-based research collaborators, Professor Julio Licinio and Professor Bernhard Baune.

Additional study participants from other geographical locations may be available on request.