The year is off to busy start in the postpartum-news world. Last week, the federal government approved the first-ever drug designed specifically to treat postpartum depression. Last month, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new guidelines for preventing perinatal depression. These recommendations are also being reported as a first.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they say “counseling interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, are effective in preventing perinatal depression in those at increased risk.” Those at increased risk are women with a history of depression, current symptoms of depression, and/or a variety of socioeconomic factors, such as teenage pregnancy, single parenting, and low income.
Taking proactive steps to prevent an illness is a better strategy than treating it once it arises. That’s true for physical and mental maladies.
Also along the lines of prevention, in 2016, the Task Force released recommendations that say pregnant women and new mothers should be screened for depression. According to an NPR story published on the heels of those guidelines,
[Pregnant women and new mothers] need special recognition, the task force says, because of evidence showing that they can be accurately diagnosed and successfully treated, and because untreated depression harms not only the mother, but her child as well.
Both sets of guidelines are encouraging. Screening and proactive therapy, especially for high-risk groups, is smart medicine. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a powerful tool. Many women I’ve interviewed have reported strong recoveries after therapy sessions based on CBT.
Heeding the new recommendations is especially important when we consider the number of new parents who suffer from a mood disorder.
For instance, the typical range of new mothers who face postpartum depression is between 12 and 25 percent, depending on the population studied and how depression is defined. In some high-risk groups, rates are as steep as 40 percent or more. During pregnancy, between 14 and 23 percent of women battle symptoms of depression.
It’s critical that we not forget dads in these conversations.
A 2010 U.K.-based study found depression among mothers and fathers highest in the first year after childbirth. By the time the child reached twelve years of age, thirty-nine percent of mothers and twenty-one percent of fathers had faced depression.
We should strive for good mental health for the entire family: moms, dads, and children. When one person struggles, the rest of the family struggles. The time around the birth of a child is sensitive and delicate for everyone. Clinicians will do well to honor and implement the Task Force’s guidelines.