Using Mobile Technology to Understand Postpartum Depression (PPD)

PPD App - photo of meltzer-brody

In order to understand who is at risk for Postpartum Depression (PPD) and track important genetic clues, Apple joined forces with the National Institute of Mental Health and UNC Chapel Hill to create the PPD ACT iOS app to aid research that might help in the development of innovative treatment options. To date, 14,000 women have downloaded the app on iOS, which is unprecedented for this type of study.

Health Power’s President, Dr. Norma Goodwin, discusses PPD with Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, Associate Professor and Director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Women’s Mood Disorders at UNC Chapel Hill. She is also co-creator of the new app PPD ACT that results in better understanding the underlying effects of PPD. The app helps doctors better understand the underlying biology and genetic risks of PPD in order to better serve affected women.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is the most common complication of child birth and may have devastating consequences for a woman and her family. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of women experience postpartum depression after childbirth. Effects may include significant functional impairment, depressed mood and/or loss of interest in her newborn, anxiety, and associated symptoms of depression such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, lack of concentration, loss of energy and poor self-esteem. Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death following childbirth. It is estimated that PPD affects 500,000 to 750,000 mothers in the US each year. Some of these are severe enough to require hospitalization.  There are currently no FDA-approved treatments for PPD.

Health Power – Your app permits women to evaluate their risk for postpartum depression, using mobile technology.

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – That’s correct. I am very grateful to be able to talk with Health Power about the work that we are doing. PPD affects 1 in 8 women, which makes it one of the most serious complications of childbirth.  It affects women of all ethnicities around the world and can be associated with mood symptoms, rambling thoughts, not being able to function in the usual way, and not being able to enjoy their newborn. In worse cases it can be associated with suicidal thoughts, or even suicide.  It is associated with a lot of stigma because it is really hard for a woman to say that she is suffering miserably at what is supposed to be a very happy time in her life.

Health Power – Tell us about the app that you played a key role in developing as its co-creator.

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – We are very excited about it. This is the one year anniversary of the Apple research kit mobile device that has been used by 14,000 women to date and today, we are expanding  and building upon its success to make it even better. We are expanding to new countries, Canada launches IOS today, and we have new modules that study the healthcare utilization and economic impact of PPD on women and their families.  Importantly we are expanding to Android today in the US and Australia.

Now in the US, our goal is to make the app available everywhere.  No matter where you live and whatever your background is, we want any mom with a smartphone, and let’s face it, that’s most moms, who are concerned about PPD to be able to use the app.  It is available in IOS and Android in the US today, and you can download for free in iTunes or in Google with Android.

Health Power – What would make a woman want to use this app?Postpart Depression (PPD)

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – We think this is really empowering for moms to use.  It does two things:

  1. The individual woman is screened, asked clinical questions and then is given feedback on her symptoms and resources are provided. We have partnered with Postpartum Support International (PSI), which provides resources around the country to help a mom access treatment if she has the condition.
  2. It allows a woman to participate in a research study, which allows us to get critical information to develop new treatments to increase our understanding of the burden this causes, and find new ways of screening.

So, there’s a screening component, and some women are offered the opportunity to contribute a DNA sample via a “spit kit”.  It is for a woman who has had PPD at any time in her life.  So, if you feel like you’ve suffered with this even 20 years ago, this study is still for you.

Health Power – Oh really, so then it’s not just a test for after childbirth?

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – This is for anyone who feels that they have suffered from PPD at any point in their life.  So it could be, certainly for many women.We have had women though, who suffered 20 to or 30 years ago, who have shared their story and our goal is to decrease the stigma and to empower women to share their story, to have a voice and be able to get this out, so that women are screened for a disease that often goes unrecognized.

Health Power – If they test positive for the screening test, what happens next?

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – We link them with Postpartum Support International (PSI) and other resources to help these women find care, wherever they may live.

Health Power – Why is it important to get this study done?

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – It’s really important for women to participate in the study using the PPD ACT app, because this is a way for a mom to screen herself, to see if she is suffering, to be hooked in with resources in her area and also to contribute to research. Because we need research in maternal mental health, we want all women who might have PPD to participate, so we can understand what causes this terrible disorder and we can develop better treatment.

All of this allows us to move forward on policy changes and on delivering treatments that help moms and their families.  Our goal is to reach all moms of all races and ethnicities wherever they are.  We are thrilled to take the success of the iPhone app and expand to Android, so that all women with a smartphone can participate.

Health Power – That’s great, where can women get more information?

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – They can get more information on our website at and on the website they can download the PPD ACT app, IOS or Android.

Health Power – Is there anything else we should have mentioned, or did we cover the key points?

Dr. Meltzer-Brody – No Dr. Goodwin, you did an amazing job in covering all the key points and I am very grateful for the opportunity to talk with you.

Health Power – Best wishes for your continued work related to PPD.


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