Moms can use iPhone app to help postpartum depression research

New moms often search online for help with postpartum depression using their smartphone.

Now, researchers say they hope moms will use that technology to share experiences and help science investigate the disorder.

A free iPhone app was released recently from researchers at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine and the Postpartum Depression: Action Towards Causes and Treatment Consortium.

Through the app, women can take surveys and doctors can seek information — including reaching out for DNA samples — in the quest to discover why some women experience postpartum depression and others don't.

According to a news release from UNC, Apple created the ResearchKit app using an open-source framework that allows for researchers to tailor it to studies.

The PPD ACT app, which was created through the ResearchKit app, is free and available in the United States and Australia, and a version for the United Kingdom is in the works.

"Between 12 and 23 percent of women will experience symptoms of depression after pregnancy, and this app will help us better understand why," said Samantha Meltzer-Brody, the director of the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at UNC's Center for Women's Mood Disorders and is one of the lead investigators. "We hope that women will share their experiences so that we can more effectively diagnose and treat PPD in the future."

The app is designed for input from any mother over the age of 18 who is currently experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, which include extreme sadness, anxiety, feelings of guilt, irritability and depression, as well as anyone who believes she may have experienced postpartum depression in the past.

The survey delves into symptoms and asks other questions about childbirth. Some mothers will be asked if they will provide a saliva sample through a National Institute of Mental Health mail service.

"This app and its self-administered testing model will provide us with access to a large amount of data among women across the globe while stretching our research dollars," said Patrick Sullivan, who is a researcher in the study and is the director of UNC's Center for Psychiatric Genomics. "This will help us to validate and cross-check results, allowing us to draw more precise conclusions."

To reach a broader audience, the university is donating iPads to clinics across the country, so women can contribute to the study if they don't have their own Apple gadget.