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Doctors say pregnant and postpartum women should be screened for depression

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Should pregnant women and new mothers be screened for depression? A medical advisory panel says yes.

The recommendations announced Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, suggests all adults should be screened for depression. But the report says it is especially important for pregnant women and new mothers.

The Washington University School of Medicine already does that. It began a Perinatal Behavioral Health Service three years ago, available to patients at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and St. Louis Children`s Hospital.

All pregnant women using those hospitals are now routinely offered a mental health screening, and if something is found, they can get immediate treatment.

'I still have my days where I struggle,' said Melissa Gummersheimer, a new mother of twins born ten weeks early on December 27. They are still in the NICU at St. Louis Children`s Hospital.

Gummersheimer, who had struggled with anxiety even before her boys were born, alerted a Wash U social worker to her past issues as part of that routine screening. As a result, she has been getting therapy that has helped her deal with the stress of having two babies prematurely.

'If you don`t know what to look for, you it can spiral easily, and I know if they hadn`t offered the services to me immediately, I probably would have waited much longer than I should have to get help,' Gummersheimer said.

Dr. Cynthia Rogers, a psychiatrist at the Washington University School of Medicine, says 15 to 20 percent of women will develop depression during pregnancy.

'They admit to us sometimes `you are the first person I have admitted this to` or `I thought I was crazy and I didn`t want to tell anybody. `I thought it would make me a bad mother,' Rogers said.

The hope is that widespread screening would reduce the stigma of mental illness, and even normalize mental health questioning of pregnant women.

'It`s not so much that women are in denial as they are scared,' said Anna Constantino-Pettit, a Washington University Medical School social worker and therapist.

'They are scared of how they might be judged, especially from providers, so I think when we ask them these questions they are relieved and mostly very forthcoming,' she said.

As for Gummersheimer, she shudders to think what were life would be like had she not gotten help with her anxiety issues, post-pregnancy.

'It would be totally different, I would be a real mess,' she said.

'It could have been very bad.'

For help you can reach out the Perinatal Behavioral Health Service at Washington University.