Study author Dr. Katherine J. Gold of the University of Michigan Health System said a small percentage of women who take their own lives are pregnant or have recently become mothers, but their frequent interactions with the healthcare system may provide important opportunities for providers to intervene.
Gold and colleagues analyzed five years of suicide data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, which was introduced in 2003 that involved 2,083 suicides among women of plausible child-bearing age drawn from 17 states.
The researchers found more than half of the women who killed themselves had a known mental health diagnosis and nearly half were depressed.
The study, published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, found many similarities that did not vary significantly by pregnancy status: 56 percent of all victims had a known mental health diagnosis; 32 percent had previously attempted suicide; and 28 percent had a known alcohol or substance abuse issue at the time of death.
"Depression and substance use are risk factors for everyone, including pregnant and postpartum women," Gold said in a statement. "As a society, we tend to avoid talking about suicide, but it's important to try to understand and talk about risk factors if we are going to address suicide from a public health perspective."