First postpartum depression pill approved


The birth of a baby can result in depression. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

What you need to know:

  • The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the first ever oral pill as a treatment option for postpartum depression.
  • Prior to the approval, the available treatment was administered as an intravenous injection. 

Imagine getting your first baby and instead of embracing the bliss of motherhood, pangs of eternal sadness fill your mind. You become irritable and hate the sight of your baby. You lose sleep, appetite, become anxious and cry all the time. 

If this has happened to you before, you may have experienced postpartum depression. However, this can only be confirmed if you get a clinical diagnosis from a medical doctor whose specialty is in mental health.

Such mothers are either overlooked or assumed to be lunatics. Sometimes they are left to piece their lives together, with their new baby. 

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first ever oral pill as a treatment option for postpartum depression. Prior to the approval, the available treatment was administered as an intravenous injection. 

“Having access to an oral medication will be a beneficial option for many of these women coping with extreme and sometimes life-threatening feelings,” said Dr Tiffany Farchione, director of the Division of Psychiatry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in a statement.

The study was done in women with postpartum depression who once had major depressive episodes and whose symptoms began in the third trimester or within four weeks of delivery. 

The participants were in two groups and were given a 14-day treatment. One group got the real drug called Zurzuvae, and another a safe imitation of a drug (scientifically known as a placebo). 

“The primary endpoint of both studies was the change in depressive symptoms using the total score from the 17-item Hamilton depression rating scale (HAMD-17), measured at day 15. Patients in the Zurzuvae groups showed significantly more improvement in their symptoms compared to those in the placebo groups,” explained the FDA.

It is after the clinical trials that the pharmaceutical company Sage Therapeutics got the approval to publically sell Zurzuvae.

The FDA recommends that the pill be taken daily as a 50 milligrams dosage, once in a day for two weeks, preferably  in the evening after taking a fatty meal.

Some of the side effects that one is likely to get after taking the drug are drowsiness, dizziness, diarrhoea, fatigue, common cold and a urinary tract infection.

The FDA gives a caveat that the use of the drug may lead to suicidal thoughts and the behaviour may affect the unborn baby.

Chebet Birir, a mental health advocate and journalist who is a survivor of postpartum depression, told Healthy Nation that the approval of the drug is good news for women who suffer from the condition.

“When I was sick, I was given antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs. I am happy to know that there is a specific drug for postpartum depression,” she said.

“I took drugs for as long as the doctors told me to, but this one is taken for just 14 days. I hope that our government through the pharmacy and poisons board will make it available for Kenyan mothers who need it,” she added.

Chebet advised the government to subsidise the cost for Kenyans mothers who suffer from the mental health condition and cannot afford the drug.

“If we can subsidise other commodities, why not some drugs?” She poised.

However, the FDA has not yet made public how much the drug would cost and whether it will be available at scale for countries outside the United States.