If sleeplessness and anxiety have taken over your pregnancy, there may be more to it than just raging hormones. A recent recommendation from an influential health panel is bringing new attention to the need to screen for depression.
Pregnant women and new moms who may suffer from depression are getting some well-deserved special recognition for the first time. The new recommendation says family doctors should screen to diagnose and get treatment for those who need it.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force points to evidence that shows women can be accurately diagnosed and successfully treated. Evidence also shows screening is needed because untreated depression harms the child as well as the mother.
This is the first time the panel has specifically recommended depression screening for new moms and pregnant women.
The new January guidelines are based on a study that found more than 10 percent of postpartum women suffer from major depression. Nine percent of pregnant women will go through a depression. One surprising part of the study is an indication that many depressions thought to be postpartum actually started during pregnancy.
The problem goes beyond depressed moms. Studies have shown that their babies and toddlers may have more trouble sleeping and may be less likely to engage with others. Consoling affected babies may be more difficult.
The report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, continues and expands a 2009 recommendation that called for screening all adults for depression if they could be given treatment or a referral.
One of the biggest challenges for new moms and pregnant women who suffer from depression is getting treatment, says the task force report. The hopelessness and inertia that are part of depression make it hard to persist in finding treatment that works.
Primary care doctors should be able to treat most cases of uncomplicated depression. Treatment options might call for antidepressant medications. Therapy with a psychologist or licensed clinical social worker might be indicated. More complicated cases might require the care of a psychiatrist.
Some experts say there’s evidence that screening combined with even a little bit of counseling helps women with depression. At the least, screening can make both doctors and patients feel at ease talking about depression.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent group of experts appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services.