Diagnosing Depression Among Women of Childbearing Age

The health perils of the childbearing years are few, perhaps, compared with the challenges that can occur at middle age and beyond. Women in their 20s and 30s may be able to enjoy many years of uninhibited good health as they begin their families and strive in their professional and academic goals.However, for those with mental health concerns, the reality may be bleak. Women who struggle with depression, in particular, may not receive a diagnosis, and may suffer without treatment. Research has shown a connection between the occurrence of prenatal and postpartum depression with later instances of depression for women, and yet pregnant women are shown to have higher rates of undiagnosed depression when compared with non-pregnant women, according to a study appearing in a recent issue of the Journal of Women’s Health. Depression is a widespread problem for this segment of the population, with up to 16 percent of women who are of reproductive age in the United States meeting criteria for the disorder. The study, led by Jean Ko, Ph.D., and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), showed that over 1 million women in the U.S. experienced a major depressive event over the past 12 months. More than one in ten women between the ages of 18 and 44 experienced such an event over the preceding year. In addition, more than 50 percent of the women did not have a diagnosis and close to half did not obtain treatment for the symptoms they experienced. The study’s findings appear under the title “Depression and Treatment among U.S. Pregnant and Non-pregnant Women of Reproductive Age, 2005-2009.” The researchers examined the findings in light of several variables, including age, racial/ethnic minority identification and insurance standing. The analysis showed that a younger age, being a part of a minority group and lack of insurance coverage were all linked to disparities in diagnosis and treatment. The findings were accompanied by an editorial written by Jennifer Payne, MD, of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. With the title “Depression: Is Pregnancy Protective?” Payne addresses the challenges of diagnosing depression, including the complications that can come with diagnosis during pregnancy. Experts recommend that reproductive health care visits provide an ideal opportunity for screenings related to mental health, and particularly for depression. Physicians in this field often have the unique role of providing regular, frequent care to patients who may otherwise not require medical care or receive any mental health screening. The diagnosis and treatment of depression during pregnancy may be challenging, but pregnancy represents an opportunity to identify possible indicators of a mental health problem that can be addressed while the patient is receiving prenatal care.

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