FDA approves first drug treatment for postpartum depression, but what can Southern Utah moms do in the meantime?

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ST. GEORGE — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new drug to treat women suffering from postpartum depression, the first to ever be approved for the condition. However, it remains to be seen how soon Southern Utah mothers will be able to access this treatment.

Postpartum depression is a fairly common mental disorder that occurs in women after childbirth. It is a serious condition that can leave new mothers feeling sad, hopeless and overwhelmed. In severe cases, it can even cause women to want to harm themselves or their baby. Around 1 in 9 new mothers will experience postpartum depression, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

The new drug, brexanolone, branded as Zulresso, is an IV treatment that is continuously administered to a patient for 60 hours, or 2 1/2 days, according to the FDA. A series of clinical trials have proven the drug to be effective in both moderate and severe cases of postpartum depression.

Because there is a chance that a patient may lose consciousness while on the treatment and risks being injured because of it, Zulresso is an inpatient treatment and will only be available through the restricted Zulresso Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy Program, meaning that the drug can only be administered by a health care provider in health care facilities that are certified to use it. Patients also have to enroll in the program before they can receive the treatment.

Because Zulresso was so recently approved, it’s still too soon to say whether Dixie Regional Medical Center will begin offering the treatment, said Dave Green, communications manager for Intermountain Medical Group.

Cost is a significant factor in whether many health care facilities will offer Zulresso. Currently, the treatment costs around $30,000, and it is unclear if insurance companies will cover it, according to a report from Psychology Today.

Symptoms of postpartum depression are similar to those of any other form of depression, including feeling emotional or worthless, fatigue, isolating themselves and losing interest in activities they used to enjoy. Some women have troubles bonding with their baby or have little interest in caring for it. For some women, the condition manifests itself in the form of anxiety and panic attacks rather than depression.

Some moms have fears over what their baby is doing – wondering if they are taking care of them enough, listening to baby monitors at night,” Gayla Reinhardt, a licensed clinical social worker at Intermountain Psychiatry and Counseling, told St. George News. “It can really vary with each person.”

Most women experience what’s known as the “baby blues,” in which they have some symptoms of depression that last around a week after giving birth.

Postpartum depression, however, lasts longer and is more severe, lasting anywhere from a month to a year. It is generally caused by hormonal changes that happen after childbirth. During pregnancy, a woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels are at the highest they’ve ever been. Within 24 hours after childbirth, however, those hormone levels rapidly drop back to their normal levels, which can cause depression.

It’s not their fault. It’s not something that they’ve done wrong. It is a hormonal imbalance,” Reinhardt said. “When the hormones are stable again, it usually goes away.”

Treatment for postpartum depression usually consists of either talk therapy, antidepressants or a combination of both, she said.

Most therapy for postpartum depression involves psychoeducation about what the disorder is and how it works, with the hope of helping them understand that what they’re going through does not make them a bad mom and that it’s not their fault. They’re also taught coping skills, self-care and how to best maintain good mental health.

Reinhardt recently began co-teaching a free postpartum depression support group at Intermountain Psychiatry and Counseling. She said:

We kind of felt like it was a need in the community and are trying to reach out. The stigma that goes along with any mental health illness kind of limits people from trying to reach out, and so we’re just trying to provide other options to ladies that may not have insurance and can’t afford mental health treatment.

The support group is free and takes place Thursdays at the Intermountain Psychiatry and Counseling office from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

“I would just urge anyone with postpartum depression to reach out. I think as new mommies they may feel embarrassed, ashamed or like they’re less of a mom if they ask for help,” Reinhardt said. “But if they can just reach out to professionals, family, friends, anything will kind of help them get through that postpartum depression.”

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Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

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