From the Journals

Perinatal depression screening improves screening, treatment for postpartum depression



A policy of universal screening of perinatal depression for women receiving prenatal care at an academic medical center led to more regular screening of depression, and made it more likely that women with postpartum depression would be referred for treatment, according to recent research published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

A pregnant woman listens to an obstetrician ©monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock

Emily S. Miller, MD, MPH, at Northwestern University, Chicago, and colleagues performed a retrospective study of 5,127 women receiving prenatal care at the center between 2008 and 2015. They divided the group into those who were at the center before (n = 1,122) and after (n = 4,005) initiation of a policy on universal perinatal depression screening, which consisted of two antenatal screenings at the first prenatal visit and third trimester, and one postpartum screening.

After initiation of the policy, screening increased during the first trimester (0.1% vs. 66%; P less than .001), the third trimester (0% vs. 43%; P less than .001), and at the postpartum visit (70% vs. 90%; P less than .001). Screening continued to increase at both prenatal visits, while screening prevalence remained the same for the postpartum visit. Women who had a positive result after postpartum depression screening were more than twice as likely to receive treatment or a referral for their depression in the post-policy group (30% vs. 65%).

Katrina S. Mark, MD, associate professor of the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in an interview that the study “brings attention to an incredibly important topic.

“The researchers in this study found that, after implementation of a new policy regarding antenatal and postpartum depression screening, there was a significant increase in women who were screened during and after pregnancy as well as an increase in those who were appropriately treated,” she said. “Importantly, however, their intervention was not only a policy, but also provided education and resources to providers to increase awareness and knowledge surrounding the subject of depression and how to screen and treat this common condition.”

Dr. Miller and colleagues noted their study was limited because they were unable to determine whether prescriptions were filled or if referrals led to actual provider visits. Other obstacles to mental health care in the perinatal period also exist in the form of logistic barriers to appointments and stigma about mental health treatment.

“Depression is common, and screening and treatment during pregnancy and the postpartum period are extremely important to improve maternal and child health. As the authors point out, there has historically been a hesitation among obstetric providers to screen for depression,” Dr. Mark said. “My suspicion is that this hesitation is not because of a lack of awareness, but rather due to a lack of knowledge of what to do when a woman has a positive screen. In my opinion, the take-home message from this study is that implementation of a policy is possible and can lead to real change if it is accompanied by the appropriate resources and education.”

This study was funded by the Maternal-Fetal Medicine/Lumara Health Policy Award, and grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child and Human Development and from the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Miller ES et al. Obstet Gynecol. 2019. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003369.

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