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Researchers hope that suicidal thoughts in mothers with postpartum depression is elevated as not only a mental health issue, but also as a public health concern following a recent study published in Social Work in Mental Health.

Suicidality was investigated in a study conducted by Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work faculty December Maxwell at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, and Regina Praetorius at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“This study illuminates the importance of social workers focusing on the unique ways mothers can experience suicidality in the postpartum period,” said Maxwell.

Data were collected through qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis (QIMS), which is a social-work specific method developed to synthesize qualitative research with the added aim of utilizing multiple researchers to create new thematic content from across literature.

The data revealed that there were six primary shared themes amongst the mothers who were experiencing postpartum depression and suicidality. The six themes were:

  1. I wear a happy mask
  2. Motherhood is not as it seems
  3. Losing control
  4. Sinking ship
  5. Sleep makes it worse
  6. Sharing stories and chores

A further theoretical reduction resulted in the alignment of the existing Interpersonal Theory of Suicide to postpartum depression-specific suicidality.

Although much quantitative research has evaluated risk factors of suicidality for those experiencing postpartum depression, less is known about their lived experiences. Such knowledge is imperative for social work professionals to have a better understanding of their role in postpartum depression intervention. Identifying prevention and intervention points should be further explored across fields serving women with postpartum depression and their families.

If any of the six themes sound familiar to you or a loved one, please contact or share the Crisis Line of Hawaiʻi at (800) 753-6879 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255.

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