From the Editor

Screening and counseling interventions to prevent peripartum depression: A practical approach

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After successful implementation of screening for perinatal depression, the USPSTF is recommending a new approach: screen for women at high risk for peripartum depression and recommend that screen-positive women receive preventive counseling



Perinatal depression is an episode of major or minor depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the 12 months after birth; it affects about 10% of new mothers.1 Perinatal depression adversely impacts mothers, children, and their families. Pregnant women with depression are at increased risk for preterm birth and low birth weight.2 Infants of mothers with postpartum depression have reduced bonding, lower rates of breastfeeding, delayed cognitive and social development, and an increased risk of future mental health issues.3 Timely treatment of perinatal depression can improve health outcomes for the woman, her children, and their family.

Clinicians follow current screening recommendations

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) currently recommends that ObGynsscreen all pregnant women for depression and anxiety symptoms at least once during the perinatal period.1 Many practices use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) during pregnancy and postpartum. Women who screen positive are referred to mental health clinicians or have treatment initiated by their primary obstetrician.

Clinicians have been phenomenally successful in screening for perinatal depression. In a recent study from Kaiser Permanente Northern California, 98% of pregnant women were screened for perinatal depression, and a diagnosis of depression was made in 12%.4 Of note, only 47% of women who screened positive for depression initiated treatment, although 82% of women with the most severe symptoms initiated treatment. These data demonstrate that ObGyns consistently screen pregnant women for depression but, due to patient and system issues, treatment of all screen-positive women remains a yet unattained goal.5,6

New USPSTF guideline: Identify women at risk for perinatal depression and refer for counseling

In 2016 the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended that pregnant and postpartum women be screened for depression with adequate systems in place to ensure diagnosis, effective treatment, and follow-up.7 The 2016 USPSTF recommendation was consistent with prior guidelines from both the American Academy of Pediatrics in 20108 and ACOG in 2015.9

Now, the USPSTF is making a bold new recommendation, jumping ahead of professional societies: screen pregnant women to identify those at risk for perinatal depression and refer them for counseling (B recommendation; net benefit is moderate).10,11 The USPSTF recommendation is based on growing literature that shows counseling women at risk for perinatal depression reduces the risk of having an episode of major depression by 40%.11 Both interpersonal psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have been reported to be effective for preventing perinatal depression.12,13

As an example of the relevant literature, in one trial performed in Rhode Island, women who were 20 to 35 weeks pregnant with a high score (≥27) on the Cooper Survey Questionnaire and on public assistance were randomized to counseling or usual care. The counseling intervention involved 4 small group (2 to 5 women) sessions of 90 minutes and one individual session of 50 minutes.14 The treatment focused on managing the transition to motherhood, developing a support system, improving communication skills to manage conflict, goal setting, and identifying psychosocial supports for new mothers. At 6 months after birth, a depressive episode had occurred in 31% of the control women and 16% of the women who had experienced the intervention (P = .041). At 12 months after birth, a depressive episode had occurred in 40% of control women and 26% of women in the intervention group (P = .052).

Of note, most cases of postpartum depression were diagnosed more than 3 months after birth, a time when new mothers generally no longer are receiving regular postpartum care by an obstetrician. The timing of the diagnosis of perinatal depression indicates that an effective handoff between the obstetrician and primary care and/or mental health clinicians is of great importance. The investigators concluded that pregnant women at very high risk for perinatal depression who receive interpersonal therapy have a lower rate of a postpartum depressive episode than women receiving usual care.14

Pregnancy, delivery, and the first year following birth are stressful for many women and their families. Women who are young, poor, and with minimal social supports are at especially high risk for developing perinatal depression. However, it will be challenging for obstetric practices to rapidly implement the new USPSTF recommendations because there is no professional consensus on how to screen women to identify those at high risk for perinatal depression, and mental health resources to care for the screen-positive women are not sufficient.

Continue to: Challenges to implementing new USPSTF guideline...


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