Well-Being//

These New Recommendations Aim to Prevent Perinatal Depression in Women

Motherhood shouldn't be made harder by a lack of mental health services.

More often than not, pregnant women do not receive the support they need, especially in the workplace. Women struggling with postpartum depression face even more pressure to balance it all, despite the fact that their symptoms can make it harder for them to take care of themselves, their jobs, and their children.

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in disease prevention and evidence-based medicine, one in seven new mothers has perinatal depression, the occurrence of a depressive disorder during pregnancy or following childbirth. With that in mind, the Task Force has released a recommendation to help new mothers get the help they need without having to worry about bearing the cost.

Enlisting medical professionals to help

The new recommendation calls for clinicians to “provide or refer pregnant and postpartum persons who are at increased risk of perinatal depression to counseling interventions” and recommends that patients should not incur additional costs from their insurance companies. Aaron Caughey, M.D., a professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health and Science University and a member of the task force, tells Thrive Global that perinatal depression is one of the most common complications of pregnancy. Due to the fact that there is limited data on the best ways to identify women at increased risk of developing perinatal depression, Dr. Caughey says the task force recommends women who have a history of depression, current depressive symptoms, certain socioeconomic risk factors, and those who have recently experienced intimate partner violence receive counseling interventions.

“We hope that more people who are at risk for perinatal depression receive preventive counseling as a result of this recommendation — and in turn, that we see a decline in the prevalence of perinatal depression in the U.S. We also hope that this effort increases visibility of the importance of proactively addressing the mental well-being of people who are pregnant and postpartum,” Dr. Caughey says.

Suggesting interventions that work

The task force has found that cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are most beneficial in preventing and treating perinatal depression. “[Cognitive behavioral therapy] addresses negative thoughts and increases positive activities, while [interpersonal therapy] focuses on an individual’s relationships with other people to improve communication and address problems that contribute to depression,” Dr. Caughey says.

According to the recommendation, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques include patient education, goal-setting exercises, and identifying and modifying maladaptive thinking. Interpersonal therapy techniques include role playing, decision analysis, and communication analysis. Dr. Caughey says the Substance Abuse and Mental Services Health Administration can also help mothers find mental health services in their area and some cognitive behavioral therapy programs provide web-based services for families and clinicians.

Trying to change societal norms

The Wall Street Journal reports that the recommendation is the latest step in a nation-wide effort to reduce some of the burdens and threats around having a baby. Not only are more women dying during pregnancy or shortly after birth, The Journal reports, but also, only 13 percent of private industry workers have access to employer-provided paid family leave. The stressors and health risks of pregnancy and childbirth are only exacerbated when a mother feels as though she does not have adequate time to care for her newborn child or recover herself.

Pregnant women have contended with inhospitable societal norms and workplace expectations for decades, but recently, some organizations in government and the healthcare industry are stepping up to provide the necessary support and resources to improve work-life integration with a new baby. Maven, a healthcare startup that places an emphasis on women’s and family health, works with companies to reduce the costs associated with maternity leave. In other good news, government officials from both ends of the political spectrum are waking up to the significance of maternity leave. More states and municipalities have taken steps to implement paid family leave, according to the Urban Institute’s Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population, effectively increasing the likelihood of mothers returning to work after having a child and improving health and developmental outcomes for both mother and baby.

With increased support from our government, clinicians, and employers, women and families can be better set up to thrive, both at home and in the workplace.

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