TOKYO -- The leading cause of death among pregnant women and new mothers from 2015 through 2016 in Japan was suicide, making up about 30 percent of the total, according to a survey by the National Center for Child Health and Development and other research institutes.
The women apparently killed themselves because of postnatal depression, according to the first survey showing a nationwide incidence of suicide among by women in pregnancy or shortly after childbirth.
The researchers used data from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare that included all information about childbirths and deaths. During the two year period, 357 women in pregnancy or within one year after delivery passed away, and 29 percent of them killed themselves. Other causes of death were cancer, heart or brain illnesses.
Of the 92 women who took their own lives, those aged 35 or older totaled 45, and people who had their first delivery numbered 60 or 65 percent. The suicide rate was higher in jobless families.
Rintaro Mori, who heads the center's department of health policy, said the survey "provided objective support to the argument that mental health issues such as postnatal depression are a challenge" for the provision of medical care for pregnant women and new mothers.
Mori added that reasons for the suicides are considered to be varied but pregnancy and delivery are big events for a family and people involved tend to have worries. "A support system using community networks is needed," he said.
The suicide rate among women is about 10 per 100,000. The results from the survey indicate that the rate was 5.03 persons per 100,000 births, but Mori said that suicide during pregnancy or shortly after delivery "should not happen because those incidents mean the loss of the mother for a child."
A previous survey showed that 63 women died during pregnancy or after childbirth in the 23 wards of Tokyo during a 10-year period ending 2014.
The health ministry launched a new program last fiscal year to provide financial support to municipal governments offering health checkups two weeks or one month after childbirth in a bid to prevent postnatal depression or child abuse.
(Japanese original by Kaori Gomi, Medical Welfare News Department)