Open Access Research article

Postpartum mental health after Hurricane Katrina: A cohort study

Emily W Harville1*, Xu Xiong1, Gabriella Pridjian2, Karen Elkind-Hirsch3 and Pierre Buekens1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA

2 Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA

3 Woman's Hospital Research Institute, Baton Rouge, LA, USA

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2009, 9:21  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-9-21

Published: 8 June 2009

Abstract

Background

Natural disaster is often a cause of psychopathology, and women are vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. Depression is also common after a woman gives birth. However, no research has addressed postpartum women's mental health after natural disaster.

Methods

Interviews were conducted in 2006–2007 with women who had been pregnant during or shortly after Hurricane Katrina. 292 New Orleans and Baton Rouge women were interviewed at delivery and 2 months postpartum. Depression was assessed using the Edinburgh Depression Scale and PTSD using the Post-Traumatic Stress Checklist. Women were asked about their experience of the hurricane with questions addressing threat, illness, loss, and damage. Chi-square tests and log-binomial/Poisson models were used to calculate associations and relative risks (RR).

Results

Black women and women with less education were more likely to have had a serious experience of the hurricane. 18% of the sample met the criteria for depression and 13% for PTSD at two months postpartum. Feeling that one's life was in danger was associated with depression and PTSD, as were injury to a family member and severe impact on property. Overall, two or more severe experiences of the storm was associated with an increased risk for both depression (relative risk (RR) 1.77, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.08–2.89) and PTSD (RR 3.68, 95% CI 1.80–7.52).

Conclusion

Postpartum women who experience natural disaster severely are at increased risk for mental health problems, but overall rates of depression and PTSD do not seem to be higher than in studies of the general population.