Albertans support perinatal mental health screening

April 2, 2014 by Bryan Alary
This is Dawn Kingston, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Alberta (left), with Lana Berry and her one-year-old daughter Kristen. Credit: Bryan Alary/University of Alberta

After struggling with anxiety and depression since her teens, Lana Berry hit bottom at age 26. Divorced, unemployed and back living with her parents, she found herself in a dark place—"as sick as I'd ever been."

Berry persevered, pouring her energy into getting better. She found work, met the love of her life, remarried and, six years after her low point, found out she was going to be a mom. Given her past, she was understandably anxious about what to expect.

"I did have worries, but I didn't have regular conversations with doctors about depression. They would only ask me casually about how I was doing," said Berry, now 34.

Despite her concerns, Berry was never formally screened for depression during or after . That's because Alberta, like all other provinces in Canada, does not offer universal prenatal mental health screening, and postpartum screening is inconsistent. It's a situation that mothers like Berry—now pregnant with her second child—hope to change.

Majority of Albertans support screening

New research from the University of Alberta shows that a large majority, 63 per cent of 1,200 Albertans surveyed, favour mental health screening during pregnancy. Some 72.7 per cent support postpartum screening—a number that jumps to 88.5 per cent among women of child-bearing age.

Lead researcher Dawn Kingston, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing, says existing research shows up to a quarter of women experience during and after pregnancy. Screening would involve having a family doctor, midwife or obstetrician ask a set of standardized questions about a woman's mental health status, during and after pregnancy.

"Screening is not just about asking a set of questions; it's always about the discussion and movement into care," said Kingston, an expert in maternal and child health. "Screening itself is not treatment; it is a way of getting women help."

Kingston says is already being used in Australia, which has run a high-profile public awareness campaign about , including perinatal depression. Perinatal screening is one of the top goals of Alberta's new mental health strategy, and Kingston was approached by the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research about gathering data through the U of A's Population Research Laboratory.

The randomized poll of Albertans—split equally among men and women—was conducted in 2012 and showed more than half of respondents knew a woman who had experienced postpartum anxiety or depression. When it comes to seeking help, respondents identified family doctors (38.9 per cent) and partners (17.7 per cent) as their preferred contact for support; less than five per cent said they would turn to an obstetrician, midwife, public health nurse, mental health expert or spiritual leader.

Preferred treatments included talking to a family doctor or midwife (81.6 per cent) and seeking counselling (79.8 per cent). Less than half of respondents endorsed medications or web-based self-help options.

Perinatal screening has been the subject of debate in Canada, particularly since the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommended routine screening for depression in primary care. That was overturned a year ago, citing a lack of evidence of effectiveness or harm. Some experts contend women will identify symptoms and seek help on their own, something Kingston says is unrealistic.

"The problem with and pregnancy is women cannot identify if their symptoms are unique or related to pregnancy or postpartum. They cannot do it," she said.

In her own experience, Berry says, many women are reluctant to speak about depression and anxiety, and she is all in favour of to help remove the stigma and protect families. Despite feeling better, she still feels anxious about her expanding family and the responsibility of suddenly raising two young children.

"It's important to at least try and open that door and start the conversation. A lot of women don't think about talking to their doctors until their symptoms are pretty severe," she said.

Explore further: Canadian teen moms run higher risk of abuse, depression than older mothers

More information: Kingston's study was published in BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth.

Related Stories

Canadian teen moms run higher risk of abuse, depression than older mothers

June 18, 2012
(Edmonton) Teen mothers are far more likely to suffer abuse and postpartum depression than older moms, according to a study of Canadian women's maternity experiences by a University of Alberta researcher.

Study finds three-fold increase in pregnancy among young girls with mental illness

February 10, 2014
Young girls with mental illness are three times more likely to become teenage parents than those without a major mental illness, according to a first-of-its-kind study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative ...

Surprising rate of women have depression after childbirth, study finds

March 14, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A surprisingly high number of women have postpartum depressive symptoms, according to a new, large-scale study by a Northwestern Medicine® researcher.

Depression and mental health services usage

September 30, 2013
More than half the people in Ontario who reported they had major depression did not use physician-based mental health services in the following year, a new study has found.

Pregnancy-related depression linked to eating disorders and abuse histories

June 16, 2011
One in 10 women experience depression during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. Although the problem has received increased attention in recent years, little is known about the causes or early-warning signs of pregnancy-related ...

Rural primary care physicians offer insight into rural women's health care

February 5, 2014
Women living in rural communities are less likely than urban-dwelling women to receive sufficient mental health care, in large part due to limited access to services and societal stigma, according to medicine and public health ...

Recommended for you

Researchers crack the smile, describing three types by muscle movement

July 27, 2017
The smile may be the most common and flexible expression, used to reveal some emotions, cover others and manage social interactions that have kept communities secure and organized for millennia.

Ketamine for depression encouraging, but questions remain around long-term use

July 27, 2017
A world-first systematic review into the safety of ketamine as a treatment for depression, published in the prestigious Lancet Psychiatry, shows the risks of long-term ketamine treatment remain unclear.

Even babies can tell who's the boss, UW research says

July 27, 2017
The charismatic colleague, the natural leader, the life of the party - all are personal qualities that adults recognize instinctively. These socially dominant types, according to repeated studies, also tend to accomplish ...

DREAMers at greater risk for mental health distress

July 27, 2017
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as small children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, more commonly known as DREAMers, are at risk for mental health ...

Negativity, be gone—new online tool can retrain your brain

July 27, 2017
Anxiety and depression can have devastating effects on people's lives. In some cases, the mental disorders lead to isolation, poverty and poor physical health, things that often cascade to future generations.

Research aims to shape more precise treatments for depression in women

July 27, 2017
Among women in the United States, depression is at epidemic levels: Approximately 12 million women in the U.S. experience clinical depression each year, and more than 12 percent of women can expect to experience depression ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.