Depression Screenings for Pregnant Women
Depression is the leading cause of disease-related disability in women around the world, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

All adults should be screened for depression – especially pregnant women and new mothers.

That’s the conclusion of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which recently published its recommendations in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Depression is the leading cause of disease-related disability in women around the world. Nine percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of new moms will go through a major depressive episode, according to evidence cited by the task force,” National Public Radio wrote. “Studies have shown that babies and toddlers with depressed moms are subject to lots of problems. They may be more difficult to console, be less likely to interact or have more sleeping problems.”

The task force issued screening recommendations in 2002 and 2009, although it did not single out pregnant women and new mothers before.

It noted that depression affects millions of Americans and is a leading cause of adult disability, can impact a person’s quality of life and has other health impacts, including higher suicide rates, according to CNN, which said seven percent of U.S. adults suffer each year from depression.

The task force also said in its release that patients treated with medication, psychotherapy or both show improvement in depression symptoms.

Evette Ludman, PhD., a clinical psychologist with the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, told NPR that depression in pregnant women and postpartum mothers historically “has been under-recognized and undertreated.”

A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in July authorizing federal funding for the screening and treatment of depression in pregnant women and those who have given birth within the last year. That bill was assigned to a congressional committee, but its chances for passage are slim, according to govtrack.us.


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Getting treatment tends to be problematic for depression victims.

“Because hopelessness and inertia are often part and parcel of depression, it can be challenging for persons living with depression to keep at it until finding the treatment that is right for them,” Ludman said.

Depression Screenings

Many doctors already perform screenings, using a nine-question Patient Health Questionnaire that checks on an individual’s mood, fatigue, concentration, appetite, interest in activities and whether they have thought about harming themselves.

High-risk groups, including those with a history of depression or a chronic medical condition, should consider more regular screenings, CNN said.

Prior Research

Depression – and its negative impact on infant healthcare – during pregnancy and postpartum periods has been researched before.

A study of low-income women published in Pediatrics in 2004 showed that women with persistent depressive symptoms, “were nearly three times as likely to have their child ever hospitalized and twice as likely to use corporal punishment.”

The research cited studies that showed depressed mothers of toddlers and pre-schoolers were less likely to follow preventative practices such as using car seats or covering electrical sockets.

“Maternal depression has been shown to be associated with many adverse health outcomes among the offspring of depressed women, including preterm birth, low birth weight, newborn irritability, developmental delays, somatic complaints, sleep problems, child abuse and psychiatric and neurobehavioral disorders,” according to the study.

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