Parental depression screenings can help identify families in need of mental health resources, study says

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Findings from a new study suggested that continuing to screen parents for depression in pediatric offices after their child’s first birthday may help identify families in need of mental health resources.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, was conducted by researchers from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. and led by Ava Marie Hunt, MD, medical intern in the department of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Parental depression affects about one in five families in the United States and maternal depression has been associated with children’s cognitive, behavioral, and physical health, according to the authors. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend that pediatric clinicians screen for maternal depression only once, one year after they’ve given birth. In their study, Hunt and her team of researchers sought to discover if there were potential benefits to continuing mental health screenings for parents past their child’s first birthday.

Researchers sifted through various papers on screenings for maternal and/or paternal related to depression and mood disorders performed after the postpartum period by pediatric clinicians. In the end, researchers included 41 papers in the study. After analysis, researchers found that parental mental health screenings were perceived as positive across all studies, yet the screenings were rare after the postpartum period, particularly for fathers.

According to researchers this study suggests that mental health screenings for both parents during the postpartum period may allow clinicians to better identify families in need of more mental health resources. However, researchers also found that even after identifying parents who struggled with depression and mood disorders postpartum, clinicians did not always provide appropriate referrals and follow-up screenings. More research is needed to establish best practices after a parent has screened positive for depression and other mood disorders, the authors concluded.