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Beyond Bikini ScienceJody Hewgill

Beyond Bikini Science (continued)

Look for Depression Early to Prevent It Later

During puberty and adolescence, young people transition from the highly structured childhood years to the exhilarating and sometimes frightening first years of independence. The transformation brings challenges and occasional turbulence. Social relationships, concerns with body image and self-identity begin to take on increasing importance for the young.

Recent research indicates that it’s also a time when girls begin to show increasing rates of depressive symptoms, saysDonna Strobino, PhD, a professor in Population, Family and Reproductive Health (PFRH). Until puberty, the rates for depression are similar for both sexes, says Strobino.

A greater understanding of this early vulnerability could prove valuable in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of depression in young women, a group that experiences higher rates of the disorder than men.

“Recognizing the divergence gives us a window into identifying risk and identifying it really early,” says Strobino. “Early identification is particularly important because one of the strongest risk factors for major depressive disorder in adults and postpartum is a history of depression.”

Can Pregnancy Lead to a Healthier Life?

For WHRG director Wendy Bennett, MD, MPH, the postpartum period is a “window of opportunity” to motivate women to make smart choices about food, exercise and healthy behaviors, particularly women who experienced complicated pregnancies.

There’s an increasing recognition that preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or other pregnancy-related conditions put women at greater risk for developing chronic diseases later in life, says Bennett, an assistant professor in General Internal Medicine with a joint appointment in PFRH.

“It’s not just a matter of telling women, ‘You delivered your baby, you’re fine.’ We need to discuss ways to prevent diabetes and heart disease,” she says.

Bennett and her colleagues are designing a pilot project, based at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, to better understand how to broaden postpartum care. Researchers plan to recruit women from East Baltimore to receive postpartum care that not only includes the relevant medical care, but offers additional health screenings and education.

“It’s not just thinking about a one-time intervention,” says Bennett, “but how to influence the next stage in life.”

Taking Care of Mom, Too

Depression in a new mother can disrupt a child’s well-being from the earliest days of life. Mothers who suffer from the disorder may be overly anxious, reserved emotionally and less likely to play with their babies—all factors that can impact a child’s early development.

“If a mom is depressed it’s really difficult for her to be present and responsive to an infant,” says Tamar Mendelson, PhD, an associate professor in Mental Health.

Based on recent findings by Mendelson and her research partners, a group-format, mental health program to prevent postpartum depression—the Mothers and Babies Course—shows promise in helping pregnant women and new mothers at risk of depression. In a randomized trial led by S. Darius Tandon, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Medicine, the cognitive-behavioral intervention was delivered to low-income women receiving home-visitation services.

Researchers showed that the intervention could be effective in the context of home-visiting programs and reported a significant reduction in depressive symptoms among women in the study group. Equally important, the women showed continued progress at a six-month follow-up.



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Beyond Bikini Science

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A band of scientists is expanding the scope of women's health.

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