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Death by suicide or overdose is a leading cause of death for women in the first year after they give birth, a new analysis shows.

Many of these deaths may be preventable, said Adrienne Griffen, who has a master’s degree in public policy and is executive director of the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance.

Griffen discussed these findings and ways health care providers may be able to help at the 2021 virtual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Women “visit a health care provider an average of 25 times during a healthy pregnancy and first year of baby’s life,” she said. “Obstetric and primary care providers who serve pregnant and postpartum women are uniquely positioned to intervene effectively to screen and assess women for mental health disorders.”

To that end, doctors and other health care professionals should discuss mental health “early and often,” Griffen said.

“Asking about mental health issues and suicide will not cause women to think these thoughts,” she said.

“We cannot wait for women to raise their hand and ask for help because by the time they do that, they needed help many weeks ago.” >more