Research — 27 January 2016

Women should be screened for depression during pregnancy and after giving birth, an influential government-appointed health panel said Tuesday, the first time it has recommended screening for maternal mental illness.

The recommendation, expected to galvanise many more health providers to provide screening, comes in the wake of new evidence that maternal mental illness is more common than previously thought; that many cases of what has been called postpartum depression actually start during pregnancy; and that left untreated, these mood disorders can be detrimental to the well-being of children.

It also follows growing efforts by states, medical organisations and health advocates to help women experiencing these symptoms an estimated one in seven postpartum mothers, some experts say.

“There’s better evidence for identifying and treating women with depression” during and after pregnancy, said Dr. Michael Pignone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an author of the recommendation, which was issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. As a result, he said, “We specifically called out the need for screening during this period.”

The recommendation was part of updated depression-screening guidelines issued by the panel, an independent group of experts appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2009, the group said adults should be screened if clinicians have the staff to provide support and treatment; the new guidelines recommend adult screening even without such staff members, saying mental health support is now more widely available. The 2009 guidelines did not mention depression during or after pregnancy.

“It’s very significant that the task force is now putting forth a recommendation that’s specific to pregnant and postpartum women,” said Katy Kozhimannil, an associate professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. “Policymakers will pay attention to it. Increased screening and detection of depression is an enormous public health need.”

The panel gave its recommendation, which was published in the journal JAMA, a “B” rating, which means depression screening must be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

This article first appeared on ‘Daily Life’ on 27 January 2016.

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