Doctors are already supposed to screen new mothers for depression, to find those who need prompt care. Now they are also being urged to identify women at risk, because counseling could prevent depression from setting in.
Up to one in seven women experience what is called perinatal depression, depression during pregnancy or after childbirth, according to the US Preventive Services Task Force.
More serious than the “baby blues,” it can leave mothers feeling intense sadness, anxiety and worthlessness, drained of energy and unable to bond with their baby. In severe cases, they might think about harming themselves or their baby.
The task force on Tuesday issued a new recommendation that doctors should not wait until women are already depressed to act.
It found evidence that two types of counseling could help women at risk of the serious mood disorder, whether they are pregnant or have given birth within the past year.
Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches people to manage negative thoughts, while interpersonal therapy focuses on improving relationship problems that contribute to depression. The counseling can be done one-on-one or in group settings.
The task force found that wide-ranging risk factors pointed to those at risk, such as previous depression or depression in the family; physical or sexual abuse; an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy; and demographic factors such as low income or teen pregnancy.
The recommendation was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
An accompanying editorial cautioned that most women are unlikely to have easy access to specialists and might need options such as counseling via a smartphone.
Health providers would also need to act quickly if counseling does not help and depression strikes, it said.
Despite the challenges, the recommendations “have the potential to improve many lives,” wrote Massachusetts General Hospital psychiatrist Marlene Freeman, who was not involved with the task force.
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