Why All Pregnant Women May Want To Get Screened For Depression

Nearly half of the women who are diagnosed with Postpartum Depression (PPD) experienced depressive symptoms during pregnancy. But for patients and the doctors who treat them, decreasing the risk of PPD before a woman gives birth hasn't been so simple. To help clear things up, on Tuesday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new recommendations, urging all pregnant women to be preemptively screened for depression.

After reviewing the latest research on the benefits and harms of these screenings, the task force found that there was essentially zero downside to making sure all adults were screened for depression — but they specifically stressed the importance of screening for pregnant and postpartum women. These recommendations may not sound groundbreaking, yet with estimates ranging from 8-19% of women experiencing PPD symptoms, early detection could make all the difference in how a woman fares.

So why did the task force single out pregnant and postpartum women? They write that these women have been shown to be more vulnerable in terms of anxiety, stress, poor self-esteem, decreased social support, and unintended pregnancy, among other risk factors for depression.

Thankfully, we're not only decreasing the shame and stigma of talking about PPD — we're also making progress in terms of screening pregnant women before they give birth. Researchers have even identified blood markers that could show who's more at risk for PPD. Meaning: A simple blood test might allow doctors to keep an eye on women who may not have the social support or economic means to come forward about their depressive symptoms on their own.

The new recommendations also tackle treatment for pregnant and postpartum women, suggesting cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of "evidence-based counseling." Medication, the task force warned, poses a risk for "potential harms" to fetuses and breastfeeding newborns, though they write that the "overall magnitude of harms is small to moderate."

Half of the women with PPD report that this is their first experience with depression. If doctors make screenings the norm, rather than the exception, the burden to come forward won't be placed on pregnant women going through confusing mental and physical changes — which will hopefully leave fewer women undiagnosed and untreated.
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