New PPD Drug Isn’t Necessarily A Clear “Win” For Mothers


In the last few weeks, it’s been all over the news. A new drug has been approved for the treatment of postpartum depression.

Personally, as someone who has long been an advocate for mental health wellness and awareness overall, you would think I would be thrilled. I’m also one of the 1 in 9 women who suffered from PPD after the birth of their child.

But, I’m not thrilled. In fact, I’m left feeling a bit frustrated. Don’t get me wrong—I am happy to hear news that this drug has been developed—it is a big step in the right direction for women’s mental health.

  • Yes, this new FDA-approved drug, the first of its kind, has the benefit of rapid onset of relief, as the lead clinician on the trial, Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, of the Department of Psychiatry at University of North Carolina School of Medicine, shared in a story on NPR.
  • Yes, having a treatment that does not rely solely on psychotherapy, which is not a quick fix, and does not rely on drugs typically used for generalized depression or other mood disorders, but also often have side effects that can be equally challenging, uncomfortable, or downright dangerous for new moms to maneuver, this is great news!

And while I realize this drug has only been recently approved by the FDA and we still do not have clarity around how it will be delivered to the general public—several issues around this new drug leave me feeling underwhelmed about the news in general.

The cost. $34,000 per patient is a hefty price tag. It is unclear at this point if insurance will cover this cost. Not only that, it’s pretty certain that not all insurances will cover the cost and so, those of us who have an insurance policy that does not deem PPD as a cost-coverable diagnosis are left to either continue to suffer in silence, suffer longer than necessary, or foot an exorbitant out-of-pocket expense (when, in comparison, a quick Google search shows one can get access to Viagra at about $10-$25 per pill).

The need for in-patient delivery of the drug. Even if insurance covers the cost of the drug, a question will remain if insurance will cover the cost of an in-patient, 60-hour (over 2 1/2 days) delivery for this drug which, because of the side effects, has to be delivered under medical supervision.

I get it, we want moms to feel better, and be safe while they are getting better. I agree with Dr. Meltzer-Brody when she says, “for many women, if you say, ‘Within 60 hours, you will no longer have these symptoms, or they will be almost gone,’ that is really life changing.” But even with that promise of a life-changing symptom-free future, this drug will be difficult for many women to access. The cost of the drug itself is exacerbated by the limited access to the actual administration of the drug for many women—both for financial and practical reasons.

I think of one of the communities I’m a part of: military moms. Even if the cost is covered by insurance, will the in-patient costs be covered? What about the cost to the family in non-medical related ways? Who, for example, watches the other children, or the new baby, for the mother who has to be in a medical facility for 2 1/2 days, and whose husband is currently deployed half a world away? 

I don’t just want some moms to have access to this potentially life-changing freedom from postpartum depression.

I don’t want it to just be available to any mom who needs it, but accessible to every mom who needs it.

Yet, I want to feel hopeful. Now that this drug has been approved by the FDA (and the company stock for Sage Therapeutics, who manufactures the drug, jumped 5% on the day of the announcement) with the goal of being available as early as June of this year, it is also likely that there will be, soon (fingers crossed), a generic version of the treatment that can bring the cost way down.  

Further, the more we talk about postpartum depression, the more we take away the stigma for mothers who are suffering and normalize the experience for all mothers. The more we talk about PPD, the more it is in the news, the more friends and loved ones of new mothers may more quickly recognize the signs and help those moms seek and get the treatment and support they need, especially when they may not recognize the signs and symptoms themselves.    

Regardless of any challenges associated with the access to this new drug for sufferers of PPD, having the conversation about postpartum depression out in the open—and in the news—remains important and essential. One study by the Maternal and Child Health Journal from January of 2018 notes that as many as 20 percent of women still hide their postpartum depression from their families and medical care providers.  

The stigma and shame has to stop ,and one way to do that is to normalize this experience that many women have after giving birth. While treating PPD medically with this new drug can be an incredible opportunity for supporting women’s mental health, knowing they have a caring, compassionate, understanding community of support remains just as important. 

Sources for this post:—-sage-stock-jumps-after-hours.html

Prevatt, BS. & Desmarais, S.L. Matern Child Health J (2018) 22: 120.


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