The United States Preventive Services Task Force says women should be screened for depression during pregnancy and after giving birth, the first time it has recommended screening for maternal mental health.
The recommendation is expected to galvanize many more health providers to provide screening and comes in the wake of new evidence that maternal mental illness is more common than previously thought.
Many cases of what has been called postpartum depression actually start during pregnancy and left untreated these mood disorders can be detrimental to the well-being of children. The recommendation follows growing efforts by states, medical organizations and health advocates to help women experiencing depression, an estimated one in seven postpartum mothers.
The recommendation is part of updated depression-screening guidelines issued by the panel of an independent group of experts appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
For years, obstetricians and other health care providers who saw women during and after pregnancy often felt ill equipped or reluctant to ask about problems like depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, the panel noted. Ob/Gyns thought that if they identify something and don’t have resource’s to support it, it puts them at significant risk, said Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D., the director of the perinatal psychiatry program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Pediatricians have the added caveat that mom isn’t really the patient – the child is,” she added.
The panel’s recommendations do not specify which clinicians should screen or how often. For screening methods, the group said that the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, a 10-question survey, was effective. The panel said that cognitive behavioral therapy was helpful to mothers, but that using some antidepressants during pregnancy could cause potential serious fetal harm.