New recommendations from a government-commissioned panel state that all U.S. adults, including pregnant and postpartum females, should undergo depression screening when they visit their health care provider.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) made similar recommendations in 2009, but Columbia University's medicine professor and task force member Karina Davidson said that there wasn’t adequate proof at that time to urge or dissuade pregnant or postpartum women from getting depression screening.

The new USPSTF guidelines call attention to how millions of Americans suffer from depression, and yet do not receive treatment.

According to Davidson, the task force determined “enough good-quality evidence” that the benefits outweigh the harms of depression screening for adults in general.

"This is because we found evidence that screening for depression in the primary care setting is accurate, that treatment for depression is effective for people detected through screening and the likelihood of harms from screening or treatments are small,” she explained.

Depression screening received a “B grade recommendation” from the task force, which means it is of moderate to substantial benefit.

Davidson added that latest evidence showed cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as other kinds of “talk therapy,” can assist pregnant and postpartum women experiencing depression.

She also noted that using antidepressant drugs during pregnancy could bring a “small” risk of harm to the fetus. However, the panel said that there is a higher risk of suicide – as well as upper GI bleeding in those over age 70 – linked to using some second-gen antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Panel members and psychiatry professors Dr. Charles Reynolds III and Ellen Frank, Ph.D. hit the recommendations for the lack of “effective treatment and appropriate follow-up.” They also pointed out that it has weak emphasis on major depression as a persisting chronic issue for most patients.

For Dr. Holly Philips, the new recommendations’ focus on pregnant females and new moms is an important statement.

"Maternal depression is far more common than we previously thought … So there was a real outcry,” she said.

New moms may be more likely to harm their newborn or themselves, although they more commonly neglect themselves.

“They're less likely to do their prenatal visits or take their vitamins or eat well," Philips warned, adding that a long-term impact can also affect their children.

Almost 7 percent of U.S. adults undergo a depressive episode every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms may include hopelessness, sleeping problems, concentration issues, and loss of interest in once-satisfying pursuits. Physical manifestations include headaches and back pain.

Photo: Chris Parfitt | Flickr

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