Screening for Depression Helps Pregnant and Postpartum Women

Screening all women for depression during and after pregnancy can significantly help mothers and their babies, two new studies report.

A universal screening program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California found that 14.8 percent of pregnant women in the study screened positive for depression symptoms. Of those, 6.1 percent had severe symptoms.

All of the women with depression symptoms were referred for treatment. Among those diagnosed with depression, 60.2 percent had symptoms that improved by at least half by six months postpartum. Among those with severe depression, 57.3 percent had progressed to having mild symptoms by six months postpartum.

“Our studies provide evidence for the effectiveness of universal screening for perinatal depression in enhancing identification and treatment and, ultimately, improvement of outcomes,” Lyndsay Ammon Avalos, lead author of one of the studies, said in a release.

Both studies were published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed journal, in early April.

Researchers compared outcomes before, during and after implementation of the screening program for nearly 98,000 pregnancies between 2007 and 2014.

The program aims to screen women three times using a nine-question survey. Women were screened at their first prenatal visit, between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy and three to eight weeks following the birth of their babies.

Women who screened positive for depression were referred to classes, support groups or individual counseling, or prescribed medication.

Depression during or after pregnancy occurs in 12 to 20 percent of pregnancies, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s linked to premature delivery, decreased maternal-child interactions, child behavior problems and, in severe cases, even suicide or infanticide, according to researchers.

Avalos, a research scientist in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research, and Tracy Flanagan, director of women’s health for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California and lead author of one of the studies, said screening women can have a big impact.

“Through collaborations with mental health professionals, the implementation of universal screening in routine obstetric care can provide significant improvements in identifying and treating perinatal depression,” Flanagan said.

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