Perinatal depression (PPD) is the leading cause of maternal morbidity and mortality and is a critical public health threat around the world. Common symptoms include feeling sad or depressed, difficulty concentrating, ruminating thoughts, excessive worry about baby’s health, lack of enjoyment in the baby, and suicidal thoughts. It affects approximately 1 in 7 women.

Despite its heavy burden to society, perinatal depression research has remained underfunded in comparison to other psychiatric disorders and unipolar depression more generally. In order to bridge this gap, we are leading the Australian component of the Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment (PACT) Consortium, an international group of academic clinicians and scientists committed to understanding the interaction of genes and environment to predict which women are at risk of perinatal depression. The study, founded by Dr Samantha Meltzer-Brody from the University of North Carolina, USA, aims to help researchers understand why some women suffer from perinatal depression and postpartum psychosis and others do not - critical knowledge that will improve detection, prevention and treatment of these conditions.

The primary method of reaching women is through a mobile phone app developed by the research team. The app is available through the App store for iOS or through Google Play for Android. Those who download the App are given a brief screening questionnaire for perinatal depression and those who meet the criteria will be asked to complete a longer online survey and provide a DNA sample.

The ultimate aim is to identify genes for perinatal depression and to investigate whether the same genes predispose women to depression in the non-perinatal period.