Research shows that one in seven women deal with depression during pregnancy or in the coming months after giving birth, yet many may not identify the symptoms or consult their physicians over their concerns.
But a recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force might change the situation. The new proposal suggests the implementation of a screening for perinatal depression for pregnant women and those within a year of giving birth.
This particular screening is part of a broader recommendation for all adults to be screened for depressive symptoms, a proposal revealed earlier this week. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is made up of independent experts whose guidelines and suggestions are very influential within the health care industry.
If it gains traction, the proposal would update the current guidelines. Adopted six years ago, they suggest clinicians should only screen adults for depression if they have the time to focus on depression care. The depression that might occur in pregnant and postpartum women was not addressed in the 2009 document, and there were no screening recommendation specified for them.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Ecker, director of the obstetric practice at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the screening proposal released by the task force also offers the community a change to raise awareness on the taboo matter of depression.
Obstetricians working at Ecker’s practice are advised to pay attention especially to women who are in their third trimester of pregnancy, as they are the most prone to experience depressive symptoms.
Depression screenings during late pregnancy and again after giving birth have become a common practice at ACOG, and they hope the task force’s recommendations will help normalize it in more clinics and hospitals. The process involved in a routine screening is not complicated: the patient is required to answer a questionnaire that takes five to ten minutes to fill out.
According to a recent study, less than 20 percent of women who are screened and diagnosed with perinatal depression had previously shared their concerns with their obstetrician.
Ecker thinks he knows why this number is so low: most women who deal with depression during pregnancy don’t want to admit they feel hopeless or sad during a supposedly joyful time. Other women might think that problems with sleep, lack of appetite and sexual desire are common changes that pregnancy and childbirth bring along.
While screening for depression is very important, Ecker adds that it’s just the first step; it should be followed up by counseling or medication, in some cases.
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