On Wednesday evening, the bodies of Swara Kaskar , 42, and her eight-month-old boy were found in their flat. While Kaskar left a handwritten suicide note stating she was depressed, doctors said apathy towards maternal mental health is the reason behind the incident.
Four out of 10 new mothers slip into depression in the first few months of childbirth, said psychiatrists. Pre and postpartum depression are common medical conditions, but detection and screening is relatively poor, said doctors. “Something was missed in this (Kaskar’s) case. Her symptoms would have been taken for granted,” said Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of psychiatry department in KEM Hospital.
A scientific review of maternal mental health and child behaviour over the last five years, published recently in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, indicated the prevalence of both antenatal and postnatal psychological distress is high the world over, with a higher prevalence in developing countries including India.
Studies published in international medical journals on pregnant women in Goa and rural south India, detected depressive disorder in 23% and 16% of the women screened, respectively.
Dr Deepak Goel, a psychiatrist, estimated that as high as 50% of women develop depression, post childbirth. “Many women and their families fight diagnosis because of the stigma attached to the condition which worsens the situation,” he said.
I ntegration of mater nal mental health in the overall antenatal and postnatal care is a necessity if such cases are to be prevented, said Goel.
Nursing staff, doctors said, are often the first to identify a woman having this condition. “Hormonal change is one of the factors that trigger postpartum depression. Our doctors and nurses always look for signs and women who show symptoms are referred psychiatric help,” said Dr Ashok Anand, professor of gynaecology department at Sir JJ Hospital, Byculla.