Check All Adults for Depression, Especially New Moms, Panel Says

By Maggie Fox

All adults should be regularly screened for depression, especially pregnant women and new mothers, government advisers said Tuesday.

The latest guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are not a big change from previous recommendations, but they are a reminder to doctors and the 2010 Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to pay for the exams.

“Depression is a serious condition that is common among patients seen in primary care. The Task Force recommends that primary care clinicians screen adult patients for depression,” Dr. Michael Pignone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina Department of Medicine and a task force member, said in a statement.

Depression is very common. About 8 percent of kids age 12 and older and adults have depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disease-related disability in women around the world,” the USPSTF adds in its report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disease-related disability in women around the world."

And about 9 percent of pregnant women and 10 percent of women who have just given birth suffer from depression, the group said.

“Maternal depression can affect offspring as well, leading to lower-quality interactions with the mother, higher rates of emotional and behavioral problems, worse social competence with peers, and poorer adjustment to school,” it said.

Obstetricians and gynecologists are already advised to watch for depression in pregnant women and new mothers.

“Because fewer than 20 percent of women in whom perinatal depression is diagnosed self-report their symptoms, routine screening by physicians is important for ensuring appropriate follow-up and treatment,” said Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

“Because of the open, close nature of our relationship with our patients, ob-gyns have a unique role to play in identifying depression in the women we treat. That’s why routine mental health screening is an important part of the well-woman visit.”

Dr. Rebecca Stark of the Cleveland Clinic says depression screening is routine there.

“We have an over 90 percent screen rate and I have no trouble at all discussing this with patients,” Stark told NBC News.

"If we're not asking the questions, you may not in fact see the signs of depression."

“One of the unique features of obstetricians and midwives who care for their patients is that they have a relationship that has endeared them to their providers. So it's not difficult at all to have these conversations.”

She said people often need to be prompted, however, to reveal their symptoms.

“Oftentimes, people expect this to be a happy time and they expect to be elated and if we as providers don't recognize how prevalent it is, if we're not asking the questions, you may not in fact see the signs of depression,” she said.

“We recognize that postpartum blues comes around 50 percent of the time at least. That's usually in the first couple of weeks after delivering a baby. Sleep deprivation can add to that.”

Jane Derenowski contributed.