by Melody Lee
From our early middle school years, you may recall reading the short story, "The Yellow Wall-Paper" by Charlotte Gilman  and having nightmares about crawling women and being trapped behind the bars of the "smouldering unclean yellow" wallpaper. While that short story may have prompted you to write more essays on domestic oppression and opposition to higher power, it is also important to consider the psychological state the protagonist was in.
What is Postpartum depression?
Postpartum Depression, also known as PPD, is defined by WebMD  as an episode of depression that parents experience soon after childbirth. While it does affect both men and women, it is more commonly observed in females -- approximately 15% of mothers in comparison to 4.5% of fathers in the United States [3,4]. Yes, men can be sad too. What's more, the risk of getting PPD has been observed to be 2.5 times higher in one partner if the other one has been affected . While the duration of PPD varies, a common factor of this disorder is that it negatively affects both the mother and child.
Why should we care?
Once affected by PPD, the mother loses her ability to provide for her child significantly. Common symptoms include extreme fatigue, hopelessness, anxiety, change in appetite, lack of sleep, severe mood swings, difficulty bonding with the baby, and withdrawal from family and friends, and even thoughts of harming themselves and the baby [2,3,5]. While mild depression is known to affect up to 50% of women  and is treatable with support from loved ones, basic education , or "rest cure" as they call it in "The Yellow Wall-Paper." Postpartum Psychosis — an extreme case of the disorder — is not as easily treatable and comes with many dangerous effects . There have been reported instances of hallucinations (hence the vision of trapped women) and even cases in which the mother murders her own child during a psychotic episode. These instances of Postpartum Psychosis can be differentiated from mild depression if symptoms last more than two weeks, and it is strongly recommended that the mother seeks help before making hazardous decisions and risking The healthy lifestyle and development of the child .
What causes Postpartum depression?
Postpartum depression is most commonly known to be caused by environmental factors. After childbirth, mothers are often visited by friends and relatives, lose sleep from nursing the child, and experience the need to make adjustments to their lifestyle, including financial changes [7,8]. While having a child comes with joy of its own, it is hard to deny the fact that the inevitable changes that come with having a child can be stressful and even overwhelming.
A recent discovery has found a genetic correlation to PPD. Dr. Javier Costas tested 1,804 women with PPD in Spain and has linked a heavy correspondence between people who experience extreme symptoms of PPD and three gene sequences: serotonin transporter (SLC6A4), dopa decarboxylase gene (DDC), and protein kinase C beta gene (PRKCB)  (Looking at these foreign combination of letters may tempt you to skip this section, but keep going!) To clarify, serotonin is a chemical in your brain responsible for maintaining mood balance; this explains why the serotonin transporter, SLC6A4, was particularly noted for its correlation to mood changes after stressful events . Furthermore, DDC, a gene that codes for enzymes which catalyze production of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, was noted for its correlation to anxiety . Finally, PRKCB, a protein responsible for regulating brain functions, was noted for its correlation to depression . Researchers have also proposed a "genetic plasticity" or "biological susceptibility" model on serotonin transporter genes (SLC6A4, 5-HTT, SERT), which hypothesizes that people with certain gene sequences are more "vulnerable" or "reactive" to changes in environmental factors .
Further research to be done on this new discovery?
To test the correlation between the SLC6A4, DDC, and PRKCB genes, various types of testing will be done:
What are the benefits of this recent discovery?
Further investigating the effects of these target sequences will allow scientists to come up with a more specific way to treat PPD. Currently, most people with this disorder are simply given antidepressant medication or are urged to go to counseling. However, treating a psychological disorder cannot simply be addressed with a "one size fits all" mentality. This is especially crucial if it involves the lives of mothers and their newborn children. Further awareness of this disorder will allow families to take the necessary precautions before an incident occurs as a result of PPD.
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