From the Editor

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

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Challenges to implementing new USPSTF guideline

Challenge 1: There is no widely accepted approach for identifying women at risk for perinatal depression. The USPSTF acknowledges “there is no accurate screening tool for identifying who is at risk of perinatal depression and who might benefit from preventive interventions.”10

Obstetricians have had great success in screening for perinatal depression because validated screening tools are available. Professional societies need to reach a consensus on recommending a specific screening tool for perinatal depression risk that can be used in all obstetric practices.

Challenge 2: The USPSTF guideline identifies many risk factors for perinatal depression. The USPSTF concluded that pregnant women with one (or more) of the following risk factors are at high risk for perinatal depression and recommended that they be offered a counseling intervention:

  • personal history of depression
  • current depressive symptoms that do not reach a diagnostic threshold
  • low income
  • all adolescents
  • all single mothers
  • recent exposure to intimate partner violence
  • elevated anxiety symptoms
  • a history of significant negative life events.

For many obstetricians, most of their pregnant patients meet the USPSTF criteria for being at high risk for perinatal depression and, per the guideline, these women should have a counseling intervention.

Challenge 3: The counseling intervention recommended by the USPSTF may not be available to all women at risk for perinatal depression. The USPSTF literature review, including a meta-analysis of 49 randomized clinical trials, concluded that for women at risk for perinatal depression, a counseling intervention reduces the risk of depression. In the published literature, many counseling interventions to reduce the risk of perinatal depression involve 6 to 12 hours of contact time over 4 to 8 episodes.

For many health systems, the resources available to provide mental health services are very limited. If most pregnant women need a counseling intervention, the health system must evolve to meet this need. In addition, risk factors for perinatal depression are also risk factors for having difficulty in participating in mental health interventions due to limitations, such as lack of transportation, social support, and money.4

Fortunately, clinicians from many backgrounds, including psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, and public health workers have the experience and/or training to provide the counseling interventions that have been shown to reduce the risk of perinatal depression. Health systems will need to tap all these resources to accommodate the large numbers of pregnant women who will be referred for counseling interventions. Pilot projects using electronic interventions, including telephone counseling, smartphone apps, and internet programs show promise.15,16 Electronic interventions have the potential to reach many pregnant women without over-taxing limited mental health resources.

A practical approach

Identify women at the greatest risk for perinatal depression and focus counseling interventions on this group. In my opinion, implementation of the USPSTF recommendation will take time. A practical approach would be to implement them in a staged sequence, focusing first on the women at highest risk, later extending the program to women at lesser risk. The two factors that confer the greatest risk of perinatal depression are a personal history of depression and high depression symptoms that do not meet criteria for depression.17 Many women with depression who take antidepressants discontinue their medications during pregnancy. These women are at very high risk for perinatal depression and deserve extra attention.18

Continue to: To identify women with a prior personal history of depression...

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