Editor’s focus: Shining light on depression?
Does a new treatment specifically targeting postpartum depression signal new progress in other niche areas of depression as well as treating the illness more broadly?
Within my closest circles, I’ve never really dealt with depression in any significant manner. Yes, I’ve known people with depression, and there have been the occasional bouts of acute but also very isolated and very brief depressive episodes to which I have borne witness up close and personal. And there are many people I interact with or admire from afar in social media who wrestle with depression, sometimes frighteningly.
In my case, it has always been anxiety that has surrounded me in various forms with various loved ones—phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and more.
And those are major issues that have caused many a tear and have been disruptive forces in life, but honestly, depression scares me more. I think of the joy it can drain away in a heartbeat, the way it can undermine a person in such fundamental ways that literally all hope is lost.
Ah, but I said it wasn’t something I had wrestled with personally or up close, didn’t I?
Well, there was that time my wife had postpartum depression...
There was a beginning and an end to it, which isn’t the case for people who suffer from the kinds of depression we more often think about. But postpartum depression can be devastating, far more so than what I witnessed and had to help fight against—and believe me, the level of postpartum we struggled with was plenty bad enough, so I feel blessed that I didn’t see anything near the worst it could offer. And for those who suffer the worst forms of postpartum depression, it doesn’t matter if it is typically a “phase” rather than a lifelong thing, because in that time that it strikes, people can figuratively and literally be harmed. Or die.
So, it was with keen interest that I read the news recently about the FDA approving Zulresso (brexanolone) injection for intravenous (IV) use for the treatment of postpartum depression in adult women. (Randy Willis also talks a bit about the medication in his special report on neuroscience this issue, which you can read by clicking here.)
“Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening. Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child. Postpartum depression can also interfere with the maternal-infant bond. This approval marks the first time a drug has been specifically approved to treat postpartum depression, providing an important new treatment option,” said Dr. Tiffany Farchione, acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
It’s not a convenient drug. Zulresso is administered as a continuous IV infusion over a total of 60 hours, and because of the risk of serious harm due to the sudden loss of consciousness, patients must be monitored for excessive sedation and sudden loss of consciousness and have continuous pulse oximetry monitoring. But it is a start, which I hope can lead to breakthroughs for postpartum depression, as well as other forms of the illness, that will give people back the hope, energy and more that depression steals.