A volunteer panel of experts, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), is calling on primary care providers (PCPs) to begin screening for depression and, particularly, pregnant and postpartum women in new report.

Depression Screening By Primary Care Providers Recommended By Experts

Depression screening as grade B recommendation

The experts’ report appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and calls for a system to be put in place where PCPs can properly screen the adult population for depression, diagnosed patients receive effective treatment and follow-up after the diagnosis.

The aforementioned grade B recommendation means that the group sees a net benefit as no less than moderate with expectations reaching towards substantial.

The group’s report comes from looking over recommendations made by others in medical journals and literature with regards to the benefits of depression screening from primary care providers.

The group firmly believes that the accurate identification of patients suffering from depression along with support systems will improve clinical outcomes once those diagnosed begin psychotherapy, medication or both.

While the panel has been calling for depression screening by medical doctors for some time, this report is unique as it specifically calls for screening of all pregnant and postpartum women.

Why focus on pregnancy related mental illness?

“There’s better evidence for identifying and treating women with depression” during and after pregnancy, said Dr. Michael Pignone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an author of the recommendation.

“It’s very significant that the task force is now putting forth a recommendation that’s specific to pregnant and postpartum women,” said Katy Kozhimannil, an associate professor of public health at the University of Minnesota told the New York Times. “Policy makers will pay attention to it. Increased screening and detection of depression is an enormous public health need.”

Doctors will have mixed feelings with the recommendation that by no means mandates them to provide screening, rather, it’s just that, a recommendation.

“A decade ago, there was more concern that screening pregnant and postpartum women for mental health would do more harm than good,” said Wendy N. Davis, the executive director of Postpartum Support International. “Medical providers would say to me, ‘If I screen and she screens positively for depression and anxiety, I’m afraid that it will just make her feel more scared, or there’s more stigma to that label.’ ”

The fact is, according to the panel, pregnancy related mental illness is real and OB/GYN’s and physicians will need to screen rather than hoping for the best or simply recommending a psychiatrist.