Going public on depression
Mental health care lacking for pregnant women
PREGNANT women are more likely to be screened for risks of developing post-natal depression if they plan to give birth in a public hospital, a “worrying” Queensland study has found.
Research involving more than 30,400 Queensland women who had babies in the second half of 2015 found only 71.3 per cent, or about 21,700, were tested for mental health problems during pregnancy.
That is despite guidelines recommending all pregnant women be screened for postnatal depression risk. Suicide is one of the leading causes of women dying during pregnancy and in the year after they give birth.
The research, published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia, found that of women who gave birth in the public sysytem, almost 19,000, or 91 per cent, were screened for mental health issues while pregnant But the study found that less than 2800 women, or not even a third of the 9600 mums-to-be in the private system, were formally tested for depressive symptoms.
“As one-quarter of pregnant women in Australia receive antenatal care in private hospitals, the 29 per cent screening rate for private patients is worrying, because it means they may not receive optimal mental health care,” the MJA article said.
“Depression during pregnancy is strongly linked with post-natal depression, future depressive episodes and a range of behavioural and developmental consequences for mothers and their children.”
The University of Queensland researchers suggest that a bigger uptake of screening in the public system may reflect a greater awareness of mental health problems. But Queens- land obstetrician Gino Pecoraro, one of the authors of the research, also suggested obstetricians in private hospitals could perceive their relationship with patients to be sufficiently close that a screening tool was not needed to identify psychological difficulties.
Associate Professor Pecoraro said that new Medicare item numbers introduced in late-2017 were designed to increase for- mal screening of pregnant women in private health care.
But he said the MJA study did not address the key issue of what happened to women once they were identified as having mental health issues in pregnancy. He said trying to access specialist psychiatric treatment for women with post-natal depression in the public sector was “next to impossible” with only half a dozen inpatient beds available and outpatient appointments “very hard to come by”. LIFELINE 13 11 44