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mental illness

People living with any form of mental illness (AMI) can benefit greatly from any one of the large number of available psychiatric medications. For some people, life would be nearly impossible without such prescription drugs. However, there are circumstances that can arise in life that might lead patients to stop taking their medication, sometimes with a provider’s recommendation—sometimes not. One such situation is pregnancy.

Those treated effectively for mental illness can lead relatively normal lives, which can cause people to make normal life decisions. Such as getting married and starting a family. But, there are some who feel that the same drugs that help a mother may actually harm their fetus. This can prompt expectant mothers with mental illness to stop taking their medication, until the baby is born. As you might imagine, it is a decision that can lead to tragic outcomes.

A new study which focused on mortality rates involving new mothers in Colorado showed that self-harm was a leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths between 2004 to 2014, according to a University of Colorado at Denver news release. The researchers defined self-harm as suicide and unintentional overdose. The findings were published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The majority of new mothers who took their own life had a history of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, the news release reports. Depression was the most common mental illness associated with postpartum mortality. The researchers point out that nearly half of the new mothers in the self-harm cases were found to be taking prescription drugs for mental health care at conception, but 48 percent had chosen to discontinue use of their medication until their child was born. The psychiatric drugs included:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for Depression
  • Medications for Sleep
  • Mood Stabilizers for Bipolar Disorder

“This finding speaks to the importance of an informed discussion of the risks and benefits of continuing psychiatric medications during pregnancy,” said lead author Torri Metz, MD, assistant professor of maternal fetal medicine at the CU School of Medicine. “Ideally this would occur prior to conception. The benefit of continuing medications, especially SSRIs in women with depression, frequently strongly outweighs the risk.”

If you are an expectant mother with a history of mental illness, it is crucial that you speak with your doctor at length before you decide to discontinue using your psychiatric medication. It is a decision that cannot be taken lightly.