Screening for Maternal Depression: New Research

eAlert 8c3b65cc-b8f1-489a-8c24-3120c4ad153f

<p>Depression is one of the most prevalent and disabling mental illnesses afflicting adults. It is twice as likely to affect women as men, with rates of major depression peaking during women's childbearing years.<br><br>Despite the often negative effects it has on parenting behaviors and children's health and development, pediatricians do not routinely screen mothers for depression when they see parents of young children. Two <a href="/cnlib/pub/enews_clickthrough.htm?enews_item_id=24178&return_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Ecmwf%2Eorg%2Fpublications%2Fpublications%5Fshow%2Ehtm%3Fdoc%5Fid%3D402483%26%23doc402483">Commonwealth Fund-supported articles</a> in the journal <em>Pediatrics</em> explore patterns of maternal depression, its effects on parenting behavior, and strategies for incorporating screening into well-child care.<br><br>For her study, Kathryn Taaffe McLearn, Ph.D., of Columbia University, examined the timing of maternal depressive episodes and the subsequent effect on parenting practices. McLearn and her research team found that mothers of toddlers with depressive symptoms were less likely to engage in certain safety and developmental practices, and more likely to use harsh discipline with their children.<br><br>The second study tested the use of a simple, two-question tool to screen for depression in mothers at primary care pediatric practices. Researchers led by Dartmouth Medical School's Ardis Olson, M.D., found that by investing a minimal amount of time, physicians were able to identify mothers with depressive symptoms and take appropriate actions: make a referral, discuss the sources of stress, or provide follow-up monitoring.<br><br>Both studies emphasize the importance of maternal depression screening at critical times in a child's first three years--not just during the postpartum period.</p>