April 2, 2012

Study urges workplace polices to prevent such depression, benefiting both women and their employers

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Employed mothers who suffer postpartum depression incur higher overall health care costs, according to a study led by Rada K. Dagher, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

Dagher suggests that employers should create programs to prevent and address postpartum mental health issues, as this could result in significant health care cost savings and a healthier workforce. The study is published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

This is the first study to examine the link between postpartum depression and health services expenditures. Postpartum depression is the most common serious mental disorder after childbirth and affects at least 13 percent of women in the United States. Employed women are more likely to experience postpartum depression if they have lower job flexibility, lower social support, and higher total workload, according to Dagher's previous research.

Her research has also shown that the more maternity leave a woman is able to take -- up to six months -- the better protected she is against postpartum depression. In this new study, the mothers who suffered postpartum depression were more likely to be single, low-income, have no college education, have experienced depressed moods and anxiety during pregnancy, be back to work at five weeks after childbirth, have less social support, and have adverse maternal physical symptoms than non-depressed women.

Comparisons Between Depressed and Nondepressed Women (N = 638)
Click on image for high resolution.

The study examined employed women 18 and older who gave birth at three community hospitals in Minnesota and calculated their health care costs from the time of discharge from the hospital after birth until 11 weeks postpartum. Researchers identified the women experiencing postpartum depression (using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) through a telephone interview conducted five weeks after childbirth. Those who reported postpartum depression incurred 90 percent higher health care costs than non-depressed women. Among the health care services utilized, depressed women were four times as likely to visit the emergency room and six times more likely to seek mental health counseling than non-depressed women.

In general, depression among workers has been shown to cost U.S. employers $44 billion per year in lost productivity and about $12.4 billion in health care expenditures. Given the high labor force participation rate of mothers of infants, which reached 56% in 2010, this study adds important new information about the impact of postpartum depression on the utilization and costs of healthcare services among employed women. This information may benefit expectant mothers, their families, and employers.

Postpartum Depression and Health Services Expenditures Among Employed Women
View the original article here.

Strategies to Prevent Postpartum Depression and Save Healthcare Costs

Create workplace policies that promote mothers' recovery from childbirth and enable them to successfully resume work:
Examples of workplace policies that may help prevent postpartum depression include:

    • Pregnancy and parental paid leave benefits
    • Flex-time and telecommuting options
    • Option for reduced hours upon re-entry to work
    • Providing support and space for breastfeeding and pumping breast milk

Health care providers, working in collaboration with human resources personnel and top managers, are in key positions to influence such policies to ease the transition for working mothers.

Provide health plans with more generous coverage of mental health services:
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers have the option of purchasing insurance from the state-based insurance exchanges, which offer different tiers of benefit packages, all of which must have a base-level package that includes mental health coverage. Employers with a high proportion of female employees of reproductive age may want to choose plans with more generous coverage of mental health services, as this could result in long-term health care cost savings.

Media Contact
Rada Dagher
Assistant Professor
School of Public Health