Pregnancy is painted as a miraculous and wonderful time in a woman's life. However, for many women it is anything but. A new report form the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force finds that almost 15% of women suffer from some sort of depression or anxiety either during or after pregnancy. It also finds that many of these women are never screened for these mood disorders, or ever get any kind of treatment for them.
"The most common screening tool is called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, and it's quite effective for screening for depression and anxiety, not just after the birth of the baby, but during pregnancy as well," said Gwen Latendresse, PhD, CNM, a nurse researcher with University of Utah College of Nursing. "It's like a ten item tool that takes less than five minutes to complete. If it seems to be a positive screen, then they can ask further probing questions about what's going on with them."
Properly screening pregnant women and new moms for depression is just one part of the equation. The more difficult part is getting help for those moms who need it. Lack of insurance and location are just a couple of the possible barriers to care. Technology can help though. "We can provide counseling through telehealth," said Latendresse. "The participants can be anywhere as long as they have either a phone, or an electronic device with a mic and a camera."
The telehealth support groups are led by a maternal mental health provider and are made up of four to six women who have been identified as at risk for perinatal depression. They meet for an hour a week for ten weeks, getting tips on coping skills and sharing their experiences. "It kind of normalizes their condition, because they're with other women who are experiencing the same kind of thing," said Latendresse. "Also, they're connected with resources. If they need more, like let's say they take a turn for the worse, or they just need more than what a group can offer, we connect them with a mental health therapist who can work with them one-on-one."
In addition to the group therapy women in the program are encouraged to practice self-care to help with depression and anxiety. They are encouraged to make sure they are getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of fluids, getting exercise, and taking time for themselves. "Self-care stuff that can really make a difference and really help," said Latendresse. "Even someone with mild depression can do these things to improve their mood."
Treating perinatal depression is important not only for the mother, but for the baby as well. Depression during pregnancy can increase a woman's risk for premature birth, and having a low birth weight baby. Postpartum depression contributes to breastfeeding cessation, and developmental problems for the baby and child later on. Postpartum depression may cause a mother to be distant or neglectful of her baby's needs, leading to a whole host of complications. "Getting women information about the resources available is important," said Latendresse. "That's what we're trying to shoot for, is to make sure that all women across Utah get education and the most appropriate treatment as soon as they need it."