High incidence of post natal depression shows mothers being missed

22 November 2012

A new study by Murdoch Childrens Research Institute has found almost one in six mothers with young infants who attended an emergency department suffered from post-natal depression, and many mothers hadn't been previously screened for the condition. 

Researchers at the Institute screened 200 mothers in the children's emergency department at The Royal Children's Hospital and found the incidence of post natal depression was 16%; more than double the reported 7.6% prevalence rate. 

Researchers also found that more than half (58%) of mothers hadn't been screened at their maternal health nurse or GP for post natal depression. 

The study, which was published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, found mothers who screened positively for depression were found to be 4.8 times more likely to have suffered previously from depression than those who screened negatively.  Single mothers and indigenous mothers were also more likely to suffer from the condition.

Lead researcher, Doctor Amanda Stock, said the study highlighted that many women were 'falling through the cracks' on post natal screening.

"There were a large number of women who were experiencing post natal depression who attended the emergency department - twice the reported rate, which shows the high prevalence in this population.  We also had a large number of women who had not been screened for post natal depression prior to their visit to the emergency department, which was worrying."   

"The findings show clinicians need to be educated on this important issue, to ensure women are routinely being screened. In Victoria, post-natal screening is not currently a routine screening.  It's very variable, which means some women get screened, while others don't."

Researchers said the high rates of acceptability by mothers for completing the post natal screening indicate the paediatric emergency department could potentially be another setting in which maternal mental health can be assessed, to make sure mothers were not missed.

The study found mothers who screened positively for depression came to the emergency department with their infants with complaints as varied as respiratory problems, fever and crying. 

Researchers say this reinforces the message that mothers with post natal depression can present with any sort of complaint, and clinicians shouldn't limit their assessments to mothers with crying or irritable babies, as many mothers will be missed. 

This is the first study to investigate the incidence of post natal depression in an emergency department.

To read the full paper, click here.