For the first time ever, a government-appointed panel has recommended women be screened for depressive disorders both during pregnancy and after giving birth.
The recommendation comes in the wake of new evidence that maternal depression is more common than previously thought—9 percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of new moms will go through a major depressive episode, according to the panel. If left untreated, that depressive disorder is harmful to both the mother and her child. Hence the call out for maternal mental health screenings.
"There's better evidence for identifying and treating women with depression, during and after pregnancy, Dr. Michael Pignone, an author of the recommendation, told The New York Times. "We specifically called out the need for screening during this period."
And not only is there evidence that shows screening and subsuquent counseling helps women with depression, the panel also found that the screening in and of itself was pretty much harmless.
"A decade ago there was more concern that screening pregnant and postpartum women for mental health would do more harm than good," said Wendy N. Davis, the executive director of Postpartum Support International. "Medical providers would say to me, 'If I screen and she screens positively for depression and anxiety, I'm afraid that it will just make her feel more scared,' or there's more stigma to that label. Screening tools actually can give a language for both the providers and the patients to feel comfortable talking about it and prevent the stigma."
The panel did not specify which clinicians should screen or how often, though they did say the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was effective for screening. According to Dr. Pignone, however, any healthcare provider who cares about the patient should sit down and ask "How do we want to do this in our practice?"