Fewer than half of pediatricians in the United States ask mothers about depression, even though the condition affects many women with young children, a new study reveals.
“Maternal depression is often overlooked and untreated because women with mental health issues do not routinely access health care for themselves,” study co-author Dr. Ruth Stein, an attending physician at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, said in a hospital news release.
“The pediatrician’s office is a frequently visited venue for mothers, offering invaluable opportunities for pediatricians to identify the condition and connect moms with services that can help families thrive,” she added.
For the study, researchers reviewed surveys conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics. More than 450 pediatricians responded in 2004, and more than 300 participated in 2013.
The percentage of pediatricians who asked mothers about depression rose between those surveys, from 33 percent to 44 percent, the study found.
Despite the approximately 30 percent increase, the rate is still too low and means many women go undiagnosed and untreated, the researchers said.
Depression affects about 40 percent of mothers with young children, and can have many harmful effects on youngsters in areas such as feeding, relationship building and mental development, the study authors explained.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently issued new guidelines recommending that pregnant women and new mothers be screened for depression.
Study lead author Bonnie Kerker pointed out in the new release: “Our study demonstrates that screening by pediatricians has increased over the years, which is promising.” Kerker is an associate professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center in New York City.
“Not all pediatricians, however, think mental health or family health is within the scope of their practice. Given how much we know about parent characteristics as risk factors for poor child development, we need to place more emphasis on understanding the entire family context, so pediatricians can provide appropriate care for their patients,” Kerker concluded.
The study is published in the February/March issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on depression in women.