Early Screenings Can Prevent Depression in Pregnant Women and New Moms

Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) issued draft recommendations for assessment and treatment of pregnant and postpartum women who are at increased risk of perinatal depression. The USPSTF recommends that pregnant and postpartum women be assessed to identify whether they are at high risk for depression so they can receive intervention before symptoms arise. ACOG joins other women’s health care organizations in applauding these recommendations, as they speak to the heart of preventing mental health issues in the women we treat.

In their draft evidence review, the USPSTF found convincing evidence that counseling interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are effective in preventing perinatal depression in women at increased risk. ACOG has long believed that ob-gyns who screen women for perinatal and postpartum depression play a critical role in managing depression’s impact on women and their families throughout and after pregnancy by alerting women to their level of risk for depression and referring them for intervention.

Mental health issues are one of the most common complications during pregnancy and postpartum. On average mental health issues affect one in seven women during the perinatal period, but that rate is higher in certain groups of women. For example, women who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are at particularly high risk for depression; for them, the rate of perinatal depression rises to one in three. It’s clear that we can’t afford to let perinatal and postpartum depression slip through the cracks. ACOG’s recommendations, along with the USPSTF’s draft recommendations, aim to ensure that all mothers at high risk for depression receive the care they need as early as possible.

In Committee Opinion 630: Screening for Perinatal Depression, ACOG recommends universal screening at least once during the perinatal period and advises that systems be in place to ensure follow-up diagnosis and treatment. ACOG’s guidance aims to promote the integration of maternal mental health into perinatal care delivery. It’s important to remember that screening is an important step in achieving that goal, but it’s not a diagnostic tool. The postscreening stage is critical, and access to care — particularly in the form of psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health resources — can be a challenge for many, especially for those of us who are up against financial, geographic, and social barriers. That’s why I’m proud of the instrumental work ACOG has done in the passage of the 2016 Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act, which will increase states’ ability to ensure women have access to routine screening and treatment.

ACOG worked to bring maternal mental health into the spotlight and supports state programs that help providers connect women to the treatment they need. We have convened a Maternal Mental Health Expert Work Group, a multidisciplinary collaboration of specialists in women’s health, obstetrics, psychiatry, psychology, nursing, social work, and public health, and established resources to help increase knowledge among ob-gyns about the need for screening and established response protocols. But we don’t intend to stop there: ACOG will continue to work with our partners to integrate maternal mental health care into perinatal care delivery.

After the public comment period, which ends September 24, 2018, the USPSTF will review the feedback received and develop a final recommendation statement and evidence review. Final recommendations will be posted on the USPSTF website.

For more information about ACOG’s guidance and initiatives to promote integration of maternal mental health into perinatal care delivery, see our depression and postpartum depression resource overview.

As I’ve mentioned previously, hearing directly from my fellow members is one of the reasons I love being ACOG President. You can always reach me viaTwitter at @TXmommydoc.