Panel Calls for Depression Screenings During and After Pregnancy

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 galvanize 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 organizations and health advocates to help women having 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 United States 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 had 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.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary