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by Amanda Conschafter, blog editor

recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is bringing new attention to postpartum depression and its treatment. The government panel, whose expert members are appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says women should be screened for depression both during pregnancy and after giving birth. The decision means that screening must now be treated by health plans as a covered service under the Affordable Care Act.

The recommendation marks the first time the task force has suggested screening for maternal mental illness. But it reflects a growing recognition of the condition – and mothers’ need for access to screening and treatment. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) introduced in 2015 the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act, a bill designed to help states better detect and treat the condition. She called the task force’s recommendation “a major turning point in how we care for families.”

Organizational guidelines are also beginning to consider the psychosocial well-being of parents, particularly those whose children are born prematurely. The National Perinatal Association, for example, issued recommendations for supporting families with NICU infants. The interdisciplinary recommendations define the role of mental health professionals for NICU families and include educating NICU staff on how to support parents’ emotional and psychosocial needs. The experience of having a newborn in the NICU can cause parents to worry about both their child’s health and the financial toll of hospitalization. The experiences can lead to postpartum depression, as well as conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

In past years, post-partum depression screening and treatment hasn’t always been readily available to women. OB-GYNs may not have the resources to screen and advise patients with the condition, while pediatricians are often focused on their infant patient, not his or her parents. Experts estimate that one in seven new mothers exhibit symptoms of post-partum depression.

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