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4 New York
POSTED: 10:56 am EST January 12, 2005
TRENTON, N.J. — Researcher Tracey Shors of Rutgers University studies laboratory rats for clues as to why women suffer from depression more than twice as often as men.
She was among those praising acting Gov. Richard J. Codey’s proposal in Tuesday’s State of the State speech for a campaign to educate and screen women for postpartum depression, a condition that affects up to 20 percent of new mothers.
“The people in my lab were very excited about this initiative,” Shors said Tuesday. “Not very much focus has been put on this disease. Highlighting it helps people understand it better.”
Postpartum depression can strike any time within a year after delivery. It is characterized by anxiety, sleeplessness, sadness, loss of energy, lack of joy, and guilt.
Intrusive, obsessive thoughts such as throwing the baby off the changing table or into the microwave are not uncommon, although only someone experiencing the much rarer psychosis would act on them, said Dr. Margaret Howard, director of the Postpartum Day Program at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island.
In his first State of the State address, Codey, a longtime mental health advocate, also proposed a housing trust fund to assist the mentally ill, many of whom are homeless or live with aging parents.
Codey said he wanted New Jersey to become the first state to provide mental health screenings for uninsured new mothers and develop an education program for postpartum depression, a condition for which his own wife was successfully treated.
“My family was more the exception than the rule. Too many mothers battle this disease alone, unsure of what is happening and afraid to ask for help,” Codey said.
Jennifer Sciortino, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said women who qualify for Medicaid already are screened for postpartum depression, and the acting governor’s proposal would extend the service to a wider population.
Dr. Margaret Spinelli, director of the maternal mental health program at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, cautioned that screening is useless unless treatment follows.
“Where do we send them?” Spinelli asked. “If you’re going to do screening, you have to be responsible to refer for treatment.”
Nonetheless, Spinelli applauded the governor’s proposals.
“Mental illness still has such a stigma to it, it’s wonderful when people who have had it can discuss that they’ve had it.”
Codey’s wife, Mary Jo, has battled depression off and on since college, and has acknowledged receiving multiple shock treatments and spending time at a psychiatric hospital. Two years ago, she was in a medically induced coma for seven days after doctors increased the dosage of her antidepressants and she had a bad reaction.
She has been recognized by mental health advocates for speaking candidly about her illness, including her joyless first year after their first son was born.