Screening for Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious mood disorder with several risk factors associated with developing it. Postpartum depression can affect women differently and at various points during the postpartum period.
With roughly 15% of women experiencing mild to severe forms of clinically diagnosed postpartum depression, health professionals must use postpartum depression screening tools to assess a woman’s risk of developing this condition.
PPD is an especially urgent mental health concern as it is estimated that the true incidence of this type of maternal depression is possibly double what is reported and diagnosed.
What is Postpartum Depression Screening?
Your primary care doctor can provide postpartum depression screening after childbirth or at the first sign of depressive symptoms to assess your risk of developing postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression screening can take many forms and helps support health providers in making an appropriate PPD diagnosis.
Postpartum depression screening also allows clinicians to identify “high-risk” cases of PPD, including women suffering from major depression, hallucinations, or suicidal thoughts.
Medical professionals developed postpartum depression screening in response to the growing awareness surrounding the effects of postpartum depression and its prevalence in new mothers. It aims to make early identification of postpartum depression to protect and manage the health of the mother, her family, and her newborn child.
If you experience depression for over two weeks after giving birth, you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your primary care doctor and request a PPD screening. If you are concerned about postpartum depression, it’s better to get help soon rather than waiting for a semi-annual checkup with your gynecologist or primary care provider.
What Does Postpartum Depression Screening Look For?
Postpartum depression screening looks for several specific elements regarding the development of PPD. The following sections outline some of the items that postpartum depression screening aims to identify in postpartum women.
Initial Signs of Depression
First and foremost, postpartum depression screening helps identify a set of initial depression symptoms in new mothers. Health professionals can use the data from PPD screening to assess the postpartum woman’s current health risk.
Severity of Symptoms
In addition to simply identifying postpartum depression symptoms, the screening tools also help medical professionals better understand the extent of the symptoms. Screening tools can also illustrate the number and severity of the new mother’s symptoms.
For example, a postpartum depression screening test could help medical professionals predict if a mother’s initial symptoms are likely the milder “baby blues” or if they will potentially develop into full clinical postpartum depression at some point.
Timeframe of Onset of Signs & Symptoms
Specific postpartum depression screening tools also focus on the timeline surrounding when the signs and symptoms developed. These tests also examine how long symptoms have lasted and whether they have stopped, changed, or progressed with time.
This timeframe assessment of symptoms development further helps medical professionals narrow down a diagnosis by distinguishing between postpartum depression and other possible conditions that might cause similar symptoms.
Specific Sets of Symptoms
Because there are different types of postpartum depression, assessing a woman’s symptoms using a postpartum depression screening tool could help medical professionals make a more specific judgment on what kind of PPD their patient has developed.
Suppose more severe symptoms are in place or thought to be at risk of developing. In that case, medical professionals can put mothers on early intervention treatment to help reduce the risk of potential harm to the mother or the child.
Risk to Baby or Mother’s Health
In extremely rare cases, a type of postpartum depression called postpartum psychosis develops.
This severe form of PPD presents a potential risk of suicide or infanticide. Though rare, medical professionals must also be diligent in screening for the possibility of postpartum psychosis to protect their patients’ and their baby’s health and safety.
Who Performs Postpartum Depression Screening?
In an official capacity, postpartum depression screening is typically performed by the woman’s obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn). Postpartum depression screening can also be performed by the family physician, a labor and delivery nurse, or another health care provider working with the mother.
Because postpartum depression screening tools are widely available online, the woman or her family can also help perform a postpartum depression screening test unofficially.
Taking postpartum depression screening tests online can help clarify the symptoms and timeframe, which will be important information to physicians or psychiatrists who will make the eventual diagnosis.
How is Postpartum Depression Screening Performed?
There are many different ways to screen for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression screening instruments include tests, questionnaires, and other screening methods. Postpartum depression screening can be performed in the hospital, at the doctor’s office, at a psychiatrist’s office, or online from the comfort of your home.
Many medical experts recommend that all women receive postpartum depression screening within the first week after delivery. Early PPD screening helps medical professionals recognize early signs so that treatment, such as mental health services, can be implemented before symptoms worsen.
However, postpartum depression screening is still not a standard practice in many hospitals, and therefore, symptoms can go largely unrecognized for weeks or months. Despite the lack of standardized PPD screening, many hospitals and primary care providers today are making postpartum depression screening part of routine postpartum care, which presents hope for the future of health care for new mothers.
Types of Postpartum Depression Screening
Because postpartum depression is a widely underdiagnosed condition that remains relatively misunderstood, no ideal screening tool is used by medical professionals to identify initial symptoms or the risk of development.
Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS)
The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) was developed in 1987 in Scottish medical centers to identify depression in women who had just given birth. The EPDS is a structured 10-question screening test that asks the woman to provide responses that most accurately describe her feelings over the past seven days.
Based on the score of the test, a medical professional can gauge her symptoms and make a judgment as to how her symptoms may develop. The EPDS also supports medical best practices, such as a diagnosis and an eventual treatment plan. Postpartum depression treatment plans often include elements of psychiatry, including antidepressant medications and some form of therapy or behavioral health counseling.
The EPDS is currently regarded as one of the top postpartum depression screening tools available, offering some of the highest validity among test results. However, it does not confirm a diagnosis nor guarantee a prediction.
Other postpartum depression screening tools include:
- Postpartum Depression Screening Scale
- Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9)
- Beck Depression Inventory
Take Action and Get Help
There is hope for you, and healing is possible. If you are struggling, please review our resources for help.
You are not alone!