Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in postpartum women, according to Massachusetts General Hospital. Untreated mood disorders are serious health conditions that can even impact the life of an unborn child. Studies show that mothers who are depressed or anxious have a much higher risk of premature delivery than mothers who are not.
To help women cope with perinatal and postpartum depression, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently held a forum to discuss methods for implementing new programs with improved mental health screening techniques. Michael Urig, MD, FACOG, president of the Board of Directors of Arizona OBGYN Affiliates (AOA), was among only four representatives from private practices at the forum.
“As physicians at the forefront of women’s healthcare, AOA is taking an important step in making sure that screening for maternal mood disorders is being done as early and efficiently as possible,” explains Dr. Urig. “We want to lead the charge in implementing these new programs, which will encourage other organizations to follow suit at the national level.”
Increased Screenings Improve Outcomes
Most gynecologists today screen women for postpartum depression at their six-week checkup following delivery. However, maternal health experts, including Dr. Urig, suggest that it would be beneficial to screen women for mood disorders before, during and after pregnancy to improve patient outcomes.
Using family history and a simple questionnaire, physicians would have a better chance of identifying women at risk for anxiety and depression related to pregnancy. The sooner these patients are identified, the sooner they can be treated with counseling, nutrition, lifestyle changes and medication.
Case Study Analysis Identifies Challenges
The recent forum was attended by 19 healthcare professionals from across the U.S., which included doctors, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and nurse midwives. During the session, participants split into small groups to discuss case studies of typical patients affected by maternal mood disorders. Their goal was to consider the opportunities and challenges related to helping the patient work through the health system. Then, they could identify the best way to screen and treat the patient in a timely manner.
According to Dr. Urig, the following are the biggest challenges in getting depression screening programs implemented nationwide:
- Inconsistent protocols. Getting a consistent protocol in place is crucial to identifying mental health issues in women.
- Referral followup. While physicians may provide referrals to clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists, they may not have a plan in place to ensure that the patient pursued care with the mental health provider. Ongoing postpartum care is essential.
- Deductibles. Huge insurance deductibles may cause women to put their mental health on the back burner for financial reasons.
Highlights from the forum will be used to develop a toolkit of screening and treatment recommendations for healthcare providers to follow to improve maternal mental health care.
Preserving Families and Society
Advocating for maternal mental health is especially important to Dr. Urig because of the important role of mothers in society. “As healthcare providers, we need to support mothers during and after pregnancy so they can fulfill their roles at home and at work,” he says. “If we fail, they may not be there to take care of their family—which is the core of society. If a key portion of the family unit isn’t functioning, everything can fall apart.”
To learn more about maternal mental health screening, call Arizona OBGYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com.