Medical Panel Recommends Screening Pregnant And New Mothers For Depression

This could change lives.

Becoming a new mother can be really tough. In addition to the rush of changing hormones, lack of sleep, and getting to know a new tiny human, many women develop a condition known as postpartum depression (PPD). This serious condition brings about overwhelming feelings of helplessness, sadness, and feelings of harming themselves or their babies. In addition to being potentially life-threatening in the most extreme cases, suffering from PPD also really takes away from bonding with a newborn, which could affect the child later in life.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force conducted a meta-analysis of available scientific research regarding depression in pregnant and new mothers, and has made a new set of recommendations regarding mental health screenings for this at-risk group.

"Direct and indirect evidence suggested that screening pregnant and postpartum women for depression may reduce depressive symptoms in women with depression and reduce the prevalence of depression in a given population," the task force wrote in their full report, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association. "Evidence for pregnant women was sparser but was consistent with the evidence for postpartum women regarding the benefits of screening, the benefits of treatment, and screening instrument accuracy."

Direct evidence found by the authors includes a connection between screening for depression and a reduction in symptoms for those who need it through treatment. They also found that screening tools to identify depression do work.

One confounder in this topic is whether or not it is safe for pregnant women to take antidepressants, as there was a rumor that these medications might cause harm to the developing fetus. However, one study that linked antidepressants during pregnancy to autism has been criticized for misrepresenting the results of the study and for dangerously recommending that pregnant women stop taking the medication that they truly need. While the task force did conclude there is a small risk while taking these medications, women should not discontinue their use without consulting with their physicians.

The announcement comes at a time when the conversation about mental health in America is really beginning to change, with a drive toward decreasing the negative stigma regarding having a mental illness as well as getting treatment. By making it more socially acceptable to seek help, fewer families will have to deal with the overwhelming darkness that comes with depression. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

(H/T: New York Times)

Cover image: Shutterstock