In early 2016, the US Preventative Services Task Force updated its previous recommendation that postpartum and pregnant women should be screened for depression. Now, the USPSTF recommends all adults undergo routine depression screening. In this brief question and answer session, Marla Ahlgrimm explains why this new guideline is so important for women.
Q: How are pregnant and postpartum women screened for depression?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Current screening practices typically include a questionnaire given to a woman during her baby’s routine well visit. This survey asks patients to identify how often and to what level specific negative emotions affect their day-to-day interactions. This screening method will continue and hopefully lead to measurable standards of follow-up mental health care.
Q: Isn’t it normal to feel a little depressed after having a baby?
Marla Ahlgrimm: While the birth of a child is certainly a joyous event, it can bring on an onslaught of new emotions to the new mom. Emotional symptoms experienced after having a baby may include sleep disturbances, mood swings, irritability, anxiety, and feelings of losing one’s identity. However, as the bond between mother and child grows, these feelings usually dissipate. Depression screenings are a fantastic way to help identify potentially long-term mental disorders in the nearly 20% of women who suffer from prolonged postpartum depression.
Q: What are the potential benefits of increased screening?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The World Health Organization believes that addressing the unique challenges of women during childbearing years is vital to the health of both mother and child. Catching mental health disorders early can help negate any side effects such as lower cognitive function and infant mortality in the babies of the depressed mothers. Screenings prior to pregnancy may identify women with greater risks of enhanced “baby blues.”
Q: How do changing these guidelines affect the population as a whole?
Marla Ahlgrimm: The willingness of government sanctioned bodies to place attention on the mental health of moms and babies helps shed light on issues that plague the most vulnerable populations. I suspect these new efforts will help drive a meaningful health reform for all.