Screen mums-to-be for depression: expert

Paediatricians have been advised to screen mums-to-be for signs of depression.

Postnatal depression

Paediatricians may start screening expectant mothers for signs of peri- and postnatal depression after research found the condition can have effects on their child's development.

A clinical report commissioned by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that postnatal depression was still one of the most underdiagnosed obstetric complications in the US, suggesting that 400,000 children are born to mothers suffering from the condition each year.

The AAP said the condition has long-term side-effects on the mother-child relationship as well as on the greater family — not just the mother suffering from the illness. The academy recommended pregnant women be screened for depression at their one-, two- and four-month visits.

Paediatricians are being advised to have mothers complete the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale — 10 questions that are designed to identify whether a woman is struggling emotionally.

The study's lead author, Dr Marian Earls, said that often doctors go on their "gut instinct" when detecting postnatal depression, and said that this was not good enough.

"[Postnatal depression] wouldn't necessarily always be obvious, so the evidence is that you really need to ask and it needs to be routine," Dr Earls told Time magazine.

The report was published in the November edition of the medical journal Pediatrics.

In Australia, 15 percent of all new mothers in Australia suffer from postnatal depression, the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) reported.

The association said early signs of the condition can be difficult to diagnose. If left untreated, postnatal depression can lead to suicidal thoughts, self-harm such as alcohol abuse and self-medication, and harm to the baby through neglect or physical abuse.

Several paediatric clinics in the US have already started screening for signs of depression in their patients, including Dr Earls' own clinic. The study reported that 10 women needed immediate emergency services, while others who were identified as being "at risk" were referred to counsellors and support groups.

For more information about postnatal depression and to see how you rate on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale visit www.beyondblue.org.au

 

12:0AM, Nov 29th 2010

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