By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
After struggling for years in a cloud of deep depression, Jennifer Nancekivell didn’t see hope for her future, let alone believe she’d ever have children because of her illness.
The thought of making a family scared Nancekivell, but she didn’t want that unease to hinder her from moving forward.
“I wanted a family, I wanted to have a positive life and I couldn’t let that fear stop me,” she said. “I’m still fearful for my children that they’re going to inherit this disease, this disorder, but I have hope now for them that they’re not going to have to go through the kinds of challenges that I had to go through.”
Nancekivell now has two boys and a sense of optimism. The latter partially being the result of research being done by Dr. Verinder Sharma, a physician at the Lawson Health Research Institute, who is studying the impact of bipolar disorder during pregnancy, which will appear in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
“I think with this research that there is hope for other people and they won’t have to live the way that I did have to live,” Nancekivell said with a barely hidden smile.
Sharma’s study was a literature review that delved into what scientists already know about bipolar disorder during pregnancy and where researchers should look next.
The doctor said he became interested in this topic in the early ’90s after coming across three women suffering from mood disorders who said the only time they felt better was during pregnancy.
“These women became depressed before they got pregnant and then they were fine and then after delivery, they became depressed,” Sharma said. “I was really intrigued by this observation … so I decided to look into the literature.”
Bipolar disorder — which is characterized by depression, hypomania or mania — is most common among women and its episodes are often concentrated during the height of the reproductive years.
Sharma’s review suggested women already diagnosed with bipolar disorder had fewer and shorter episodes while pregnant. However, the impact of mood-stabilizing medications and the misdiagnosis of patients complicated much of the existing data.
Sharma is calling for the establishment of a multi-centre study, where collaboration will take place amongst institutions like Western University and different hospital organizations to take a clear look into the natural course of the disorder.
“I really see this as a window of opportunity for us to understand bipolar disorder in women,” he said. “Childbirth provides us this wonderful opportunity to understand this.”
That approach gives Nancekivell confidence in her children’s futures.
“Through research, so much has changed and there’s going to be so much more change,” she said. “There’s hope for myself, there’s hope for children and hope for other people that are going through this.”