It’s Time to Screen All Pregnant Women for Depression

asian pregnant woman in hospital depression

We all know postpartum depression is a serious issue, but many people do not know about peripartum depression: symptoms of depression during pregnancy, especially in the weeks approaching birth.

Roughly one in five women experience an episode of depression during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth, according to a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality [AHRQ]. About half of these women have “serious symptoms,” The New York Times reported.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force [USPSTF] issued a recommendation in The Journal of the American Medical Association that urges primary care doctors to implement depression screenings for pregnant women. These screenings will improve depression symptoms by encouraging women to proactively seek treatments such as psychotherapy, the USPSTF said. They involve questionnaires and scales designed to evaluate symptoms of depression.

The task force gave their recommendation a “B” rating, meaning they believe the Affordable Care Act should cover these depression screenings. This exemplifies a movement towards accepting depression and other mental illnesses as serious medical issues that deserve the same level of treatment and coverage.

For years, medical professionals were reluctant to address depression with pregnant and postpartum patients because they worried it opened them up to liability issues and felt ill equipped to treat mental illness. Pregnant women were hesitant to discuss their symptoms and concerns as well.

If a mother is “feeling so anxious you’re going to come out of your skin or feeling that you’re going to harm your baby, you may think: ‘Oh, my God, I’m having these crazy feelings and nobody’s talking about it. I must be a terrible mother,’ perinatal psychiatry director Samantha Meltzer-Brody told The New York Times.

Hopefully, medical professionals will implement these screenings in a way where they involve the appropriate mental health professionals. This will reduce the worry of liability and feeling of being unable to fully treat patients.

What Do Mental Health Professionals Think?

Our therapists at Talkspace weighed in on the story, applauding the effort while expressing some healthy skepticism.

Talkspace therapist Gina Abbondante believes more hospitals should implement similar measures such as the Edinburgh depression scale [postpartum depression scale]. It is important to address women’s mental health during pregnancy because it is a time of change and emotional turmoil, Abbondante said.

Talkspace therapist Kristine Cueller agreed pregnancy during depression was an important issue to focus on but worried about the approach the medical community might take.

Medical professionals might not present treatments in a therapeutic way, Cuellar said, which could exacerbate depressive symptoms and add stress.

Hospitals have a responsibility to ensure they provide or refer patients to the proper environment for mental health treatment. Either way, requiring screenings for depression will at least raise awareness and allow pregnant women more opportunities to seek therapy that will increase their quality of life and their child’s.

Published by

Joseph Rauch

Staff Writer at Talkspace