NZ's baby blues ring alarm bells
By JENNY MACINTYRE - Sunday Star Times | Sunday, 10 June 2007

Maternity experts are calling for routine screening of new mums after a study showed almost one in three Kiwi mothers suffers from postnatal depression - one of the highest rates in the world.

The Auckland University research published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found many were not receiving treatment for it.

In their survey of Auckland mums with four-month-old babies, researchers found 69 women had measurable depression, but only nine were being treated.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said the research recommended routine screening for postnatal depression in mothers throughout the first year of their child's lives.

A trial routine screening of mothers was introduced by Auckland primary health organisation ProCare four years ago. It screened 14,000 mothers when their babies were immunised and found 17 per cent of women needed immediate psychological assessment.

ProCare has picked up 2380 clinically depressed mothers in a 30-month screening programme. The screening programme has since lapsed, except for high-risk mums, because of a lack of money.

Clements said people had difficulty admitting they needed help and healthcare professionals needed to be vigilant to identify symptoms of depression.

"Mothers in our society put on a brave face and try to present a coping image to the world."

She said the stigma of mental illness was a "double whammy for women" because they were frightened they would be labelled mentally ill and feared the consequences of not being seen as a "good" mother.

"People think once you get your bundle of joy you will be happy, but sometimes people feel emotionally down, their hormones are all over the place, they are struggling with sleepless nights and everyone expects them to be happy. They can't say `I want to send it back."' Not enjoying anything that used to make you happy, not laughing and struggling for more than two weeks are symptoms of depression.

ProCare's clinical director David Codyre said without its screening, 2380 mothers would probably not have been identified as suffering from postnatal depression.

Codyre said the researchers focused on postnatal depression as research showed some 11-year-olds had impaired intellectual development if their mother's depression was not treated.

"If depression was treated when the baby was three months, their intellectual development was equal to their peers."

Nick Argyle, one of the study's researchers and director of mental health services at Auckland District Health Board, said the loss of general practitioners doing obstetrics meant they were less aware of mental health changes in patients.

"A weakness in the current system is the lack of co-ordination between obstetricians, midwives and GPs, and the lack of routine screening for postnatal depression."

Argyle said New Zealand's higher rate of postnatal depression was related to a range of factors, including financial pressure, adjusting to one income, stress on working mothers, and older mothers adjusting from successful careers to becoming housebound.

The Ministry of Health is examining whether it should introduce routine screening and will start a round of consultation soon.

The UK, parts of Australia and the United States routinely screen for depression in mothers.

From here .