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Health Team

UNC Study: New Mothers Not Screened for Depression

Posted May 31, 2007 1:41 p.m. EDT
Updated May 31, 2007 7:04 p.m. EDT

— A new study suggests a majority of doctors are not probing new mothers for signs of postpartum depression.

Of the 228 physicians responding to the survey who said they had seen women for postpartum visits in the previous three months, 79 percent said they were unlikely to formally screen the patients for depression.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include extreme fatigue, loss of pleasure in daily life, sleeplessness, sadness, tearfulness, anxiety, hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, irritability, appetite change and poor concentration.

"We believe that it is very important that physicians work some type of depression screening into postpartum visits," said Betsy Sleath, lead author of the study and a professor in UNC's School of Pharmacy. "Perhaps even more important, women shouldn't be afraid or embarrassed to raise this issue with their doctor. We're expected by society to be happy when we have a child so sometimes it's hard to talk about the fact that women feel sad, or that it's hard being a new mother."

Physicians and other health care professionals use a variety of tools such as a patient health questionnaire and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale to determine a woman's risk of postpartum depression.

Dr. Bradley Gaynes, one of the study's co-authors and a psychiatrist with UNC Health Care, said checking for signs of depression can be as simple as asking a new mother two questions:

  • Has your interest in your usual activities changed?
  • Do you feel depressed or hopeless?


"We recognize that physicians must cope with many demands on their time," Gaynes said. "But depression is one of the most common postpartum complications, and a postpartum depression needs to be identified before it can be treated. We encourage clinicians to always check for signs of depression during postpartum visits. These questions represent the core symptoms of a major depressive disorder."

An estimated 13 percent of new mothers are affected by postpartum depression. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be published June 6 in the North Carolina Medical Journal.