Experts Recommend Depression Screenings for All Adults and Pregnant Women

By May Wilkerson 02/04/16

There is evidence that screening for depression does lead to strong improvements in depressive symptoms. 

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Experts Recommend Depression Screenings for All Adults and Pregnant Women
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If your doctor asks you if you’ve felt especially down lately, they’re not just being nosey. According to new recommendations by the US Preventive Services Task Force, all primary care doctors should begin screening all adult patients for depression at least once, as well as all women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. 

The recommendation was part of updated depression screening guidelines issued by the task force, a panel of experts appointed by the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2009, the group recommended that adults should be screened only at specific clinics with systems in place to connect at-risk patients to mental health care. Also, the 2009 guidelines did not include pregnant and postpartum women.

“It’s very significant that the task force is now putting forth a recommendation that’s specific to pregnant and postpartum women,” said Katy Kozhimannil, an associate professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. “Policymakers will pay attention to it. Increased screening and detection of depression is an enormous public health need.”

Part of the reason for the move to recommend depression screening for the general population is because "[depression care] support is now much more widely available and accepted as part of mental health care,” said the task force.

An estimated 7% of American adults suffer from depression every year, and it is the leading cause of disability among adults in the US, according to the task force. An estimated one in seven women experience symptoms of postpartum depression after giving birth. “There’s better evidence for identifying and treating women with depression” during and after pregnancy, said Dr. Michael Pignone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an author of the recommendation. As a result, he said, “we specifically called out the need for screening during this period.”

Although many doctors already screen and treat for depression, there is no monitoring as to how common and effective these processes are. "We believe that all practices should have adequate systems in place to screen, treat and follow up on depression," said Pignone. The most important thing, he added, is for primary care doctors to be trained in how to diagnose depression and then prescribe appropriate treatment, such as antidepressants or refer them to therapy or mental health care.

"One of the things that I think is exciting about these new recommendations is the decision to specify that it includes pregnant and postpartum women because we know that untreated depression in (these) women can affect the baby as well as the mother,” said Ellen L. Poleshuck, associate professor of psychiatry and obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. In addition to affecting the health of the mother, research shows depression during pregnancy and postpartum is linked to lower birth weight, mood problems and developmental delays and other health complications in babies.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.