- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — Virginia is among five states awarded federal grants to help doctors and nurses identify women who suffer depression while pregnant and after giving birth.

Perinatal depression “is something women try to hide,” said Mary Zoller, a policy analyst for the state Department of Health’s Division of Women’s and Infants’ Health.

“They are ashamed of it. You have this baby, and it is supposed to be a wonderful thing, but they are not feeling good about it. Women may be reluctant to ask for help,” Miss Zoller said.

The federal grants also were awarded to Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts and New York, she said.

Virginia will use its $250,000 grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to develop a Web-based training tool on perinatal depression.

This type of depression has received attention in recent years because of high-profile cases in which mothers killed their young children. In 2001, Andrea Yates of Texas drowned her five children in a bathtub, and her attorney argued she suffered from postpartum psychosis.

Two years ago in Norfolk, Sonita L. Barkley drowned her three sons in her bathtub. The pregnant woman then jumped off a bridge and drowned. Her estranged husband said she suffered from postpartum depression.

“What we are hoping to do through this grant is help identify women and get them into treatment to prevent those kinds of things from happening,” Miss Zoller told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Virginia lawmakers referred to the Norfolk case in passing a bill last year that requires hospitals to provide new mothers with information on postpartum depression.

Miss Zoller said the grant will be used to train doctors, nurses, physician assistants, social workers, home health care providers and others who come into contact with depressed women.

A panel of about 40 specialists will help identify key issues the curriculum needs to cover and resources for treatment.

Health care providers will be asked about their responses when they have a patient who seems depressed after giving birth. Women will be invited to join focus groups to talk about the barriers to getting care.

Researchers are not sure why some women are depressed after giving birth, but hormonal fluctuations, insomnia and stress are seen as likely contributors.

“The stress of not having adequate resources, not have adequate support and perhaps being single are definitely contributing factors,” Miss Zoller said.

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