Pregnancy-Related Suicide and Medical Negligence

Medical knowledge is constantly being updated through medical studies, public awareness campaigns and on-the-job experience. However, physicians are often slow to change practice patterns when new information comes to light. As a medical malpractice lawyer, I frequently find that physicians will fail to follow updated guidelines and recommendations even years after their publication. Ignorance does not excuse medical malpractice.

One area that is particularly dynamic involves mental health disorders. This area is dynamic in part because pharmaceutical companies have, unfortunately, taken the lead in treatment protocols for many mental health disorders. The psychotropic medications that they promote have many serious side effects. Yet the pursuit of profits and higher stock prices results in a gross over-prescription of these dangerous medications. At the same time, other mental health disorders remain underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Most people have heard of postpartum depression. Postpartum depression, or the “baby blues,” can have a significant impact on a new mother during the several months following delivery. There may be chemical changes that occur with the profound hormonal imbalances associated with pregnancy. Postpartum depression can result in suicide or a mother terminating her new baby’s life.

One researcher is currently trying to bring awareness to pregnancy-related mental health conditions, including the risk increased risk of suicide during and immediately after pregnancy. Overall, maternal mortality has increased due to known pregnancy-related conditions like preeclampsia, hypertension, pulmonary embolism, infection, and bleeding complications. However, pregnancy-related suicide is often not included in these numbers. Studies show that the rate of pregnancy related suicide is also increasing.

The United States currently has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world. However, the statistics do not include death related to suicide, overdose or domestic violence.  According to one researcher, “overdoses and suicides represent the leading cause of postpartum death in California and account for some 20% of deaths among pregnant women and new mothers in Illinois.” In a different study, the CDC estimated that over 8% of all maternal deaths were attributable to suicide, overdose or unintentional injuries related to an underlying mental health disorder. Experts suspect that this statistic undercounts the true extent of maternal deaths related to an acute mental health crisis. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an astounding .1% to .5% of all women in the study experienced suicidal ideation in the years before giving birth and the year after giving birth. This study was limited to women who were commercially insured. Experts suspect that the rate is higher amongst the uninsured, due to the aggravating circumstance of poverty and financial burden.

These concerning studies require obstetricians to take into consideration their pregnant patient’s mental health both during and after pregnancy. Obstetricians must be trained to recognize mental health crises, make appropriate referrals and recommendations for treatment. Failure to do so may give rise to a claim for medical negligence. If you have questions about a case, contact a personal injury attorney, like Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., L.P.A., a personal injury attorney, for advice.