Maternal Depression Eased With Brief Treatment

By Rochelle Oliver, Associate News Editor
October 20th, 2021
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

Postpartum depression can be experienced shortly after giving birth and last for months thereafter. However new studies show that moderate to severe depression symptoms are prevalent in disadvantaged women well after the postpartum period has passed. Women were experiencing depression even though their children were in their toddler years.

While this news may be alarming, Dr. Carol Weitzman and her colleagues at Yale University School of Medicine suggest that these symptoms can be quickly identified, as well as treated.

Brief cognitive behavioral therapy, she says, is more beneficial than assistance provided by case management and social workers.

“Depression in underserved women of childbearing age is extremely common, and nearly one in five mothers of children older than 1 year of age reports moderate to severe depressive symptoms,” said Weitzman, MD.

Weitzman asked 931 mothers to complete a 16-item measure of depression severity before taking their healthy child in for a visit to a clinic for disadvantaged children. Of the women who took the questionnaire, 71 were interviewed to confirm they truly experienced symptoms of depression: 26 percent had mild symptoms, 13 percent had moderate symptoms, and 6 percent expressed severe symptoms of depression.

Their children ranged in ages between 12 months to upwards of 4-years-old.

“This finding reinforces that depression in mothers is not restricted to the postpartum period, and in fact after the postpartum period as children get older, the prevalence of maternal depression may be higher,” Dr. Weitzman said.

The women were then divided. Some women received either on-site brief cognitive behavior therapy for six weeks or were provided someone to speak with such as a social worker.

The women who received cognitive behavior therapy did see an improvement in their depression symptoms, however, the women who were referred to a social worker showed only slight improvements, if any at all.

The report suggests that identifying a mother with depression can start with the child’s pediatrician. While the child is getting a checkup, the doctor can ask the mother a series of questions.

While this can help to identify problems, treatment in underserved women is a bit more challenging.

Reports suggest women in this economic bracket are less likely to enter and remain in treatment, which is why Weitzman believes the findings from this study is important:  On-site cognitive care is critical for mothers who otherwise would not get the care they need.

“Brief on-site treatment can help reduce symptoms of depression in a mother and may also improve her perspective about her child’s behavior,” Dr. Weitzman said.