What should you know about screenings for postpartum depression?

Postpartum depression strikes within a few days of having given birth. Most women think the 'baby blues' would pass away on their own in a few days. Usually, this is true but quite often the depression could last for several weeks and even months. If left untreated it could even develop into depression psychosis. Postpartum depression affects the new mother directly and the whole family indirectly.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) does not recognize postpartum depression as being any different from major types of depression. However, the manual lists 'Postpartum Onset' symptom details that might occur within four weeks of having given birth.

This formal system of screening mainly includes the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. This is used in America, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. The Scale is a questionnaire with a 10-item form in which the new mother has to rate herself. Australian experts say a 12.5 score on the scale accurately shows major depression. Doctors say new mothers could use the screening test themselves and if score a threshold score then they should contact their doctor and discuss the problem.

However, University of York's Dr Mike Paulden and colleagues say screenings for postpartum depression are most popular via questionnaires but these could be controversial. They have published their ideas on the British Medical Journal website.

Dr Paulden's team says though of all types of screenings for postpartum depression, the Edinburgh Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is the most popular and most researched, it shows only reasonably well results.

Various doctors use their own systems of screenings also. A psychiatric symptom index is often used to identify postpartum depression. But the results might vary considerably if compared to a symptom index screening by pediatricians. In fact, researchers from the from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland say that pediatric health care professionals do not recognize self-reported depression by new mothers as anything serious. They suggest special structured screening tools should be developed to identify new mothers with postpartum depression.

Experts say screenings could be based on risk factors like history of depression in the family, abuse, alcohol usage, smoking, anxiety, hormonal profile, marital relationship problems, financial problems, the infant's temperament or physical well-being and lack of family support.

Some experts say that If postpartum depression starts suddenly then it is more easier to detect than depression that worsens slowly. Detection of postpartum depression might be difficult because most women automatically expect a period of adjustment after having given birth. Therefore, some new mothers might not even accept that something is really wrong and their depression could require help. Often, postpartum depression also referred to as 'baby blues' is dismissed as a passing phase.

Moreover, new mothers who do not have a regular family physician to turn to might not be sure about whom to discuss their condition with.

Overall, screenings for postpartum depression show that women in the age-group of 25-45 are most likely to fall victim to mood swings leading to depression after childbirth. Approximately 11-20 per cent of new mothers suffer from postpartum depression, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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