Debate Over Screening for Postpartum Depression

The “Melanie Blocker-Stokes Moms’ Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act” or more commonly known as the “Melanie Blocker-Stokes MOTHERS Act” is causing a surprising petition war on Capitol Hill.

The Act calls for federal funding of research to identify causes of and treatment for postpartum depression (PPD), as well as the development of enhanced screening techniques and public education of the condition, symptoms, and treatment methods.

Opponents of the bill fear the overuse of psychotropic drugs to treat mothers with symptoms of PPD. Other experts are concerned that women who suffer from depression may not be properly diagnosed for conditions other than PPD. Ingrid Johnston-Robledo, director of women’s studies at the State University of New York at Fredonia, best addressed the diverging views in pointing out that the arguments over PPD screening should not been seen as mutually exclusive:

“The problem with women’s reproductive-health issues is that they tend to be ignored or exaggerated,” she says. “We need to find a way to come down in the middle: acknowledge women’s depression but not assume that all women who struggle with the transition to motherhood are depressed.”

PPD is a women’s mental health issue that is often overlooked and undiagnosed.  It is an issue that can no longer go unrecognized and with the MOTHERS Act in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, it might not have to for much longer.

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1 Response to Debate Over Screening for Postpartum Depression

  1. Glad to see you care about women’s mental health. It is rare that women’s organizations speak up about this, because postpartum depression is not a pretty topic. People would rather shy away than stand up for all new mothers, some who may end up suffering from a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder.

    While the anti-psychiatry crowd continue to try and confuse the message by telling people that the MOTHERS Act mandates screening, or that it will lead to the overdrugging of America’s mothers, anyone who reads the bill can see that neither of those things is true.

    In an open letter to Time magazine, which just published a slanted and uninformed article about the MOTHERS Act, nearly 50 women’s mental health advocates shared the following:
    1. The majority of the medical community supports the MOTHERS Act — not just the psychiatric portion of the medical community, the entire medical community.
    2. Screening tools for depression are NOT designed to take the place of evaluation by health care professionals, so it is manipulation to suggest that screening alone will yield treatment of any kind or specifically treatment via medication. In a study of large scale universal screening efforts of more than 1000 pregnant and postpartum women, screening for depression did not lead to greater rates of treatment (Yonkers et al., Psychiatric Services, 2009). This is because there are many barriers to treatment, regardless of a positive screen. Additionally, for those who are able and choose to be treated, many women elect methods that DON’T include medication (Pearlstein et al., Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2006).

    The National Academies fully endorses screening for parental depression and believes it is crucial, while also emphasizing that screening is not helpful unless there is effective follow up and treatment tied to it. Supporters of the MOTHERS Act share that belief. Although effective treatment is available, fewer than half of cases of postpartum depression are recognized (Gjerdingen et al., Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 2007). Even fewer of those women ever receive treatment of any kind.

    The MOTHERS Act is sorely needed.

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