Are family physicians appropriately screening for postpartum depression?

J Am Board Fam Pract. 2005 Mar-Apr;18(2):104-12. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.18.2.104.


Purpose: Despite the availability of screening tools for postpartum depression (PPD), there is a general consensus that the condition is underdiagnosed. This study was conducted to determine how frequently family physicians screen for PPD, what methods they use to screen, and what influences their screening frequency.

Methods: A survey of members of the Washington Academy of Family Physicians was conducted. Three hundred sixty-two (60.9%) mailed surveys were returned. The 298 physicians who saw postpartum women and children younger than 1 year of age were included in the study.

Results: Of the study population, 70.2% always or often screened for PPD at postpartum gynecologic examinations, and 46% always or often screened mothers at well-child visits. Of those who screened, 30.6% reported using a validated screening tool. Of those, only 18% used a tool specifically designed to screen for PPD. Logistic regression modeling showed that female sex [odds ratio (OR) = 2.2], training in PPD during residency (OR = 8.1), training in PPD through medical literature (OR = 2.1), and agreement that postpartum depression is common enough to warrant screening (OR = 1.9) were all significantly associated with more frequent screening at postpartum gynecologic visits. Agreement that screening takes too much effort was associated with less frequent screening (OR = 0.8).

Conclusions: Although family physicians believe that PPD is serious, identifiable, and treatable; screening is not universal and use of screening tools designed for PPD is uncommon. Training in postpartum depression and female sex are the variables most strongly associated with frequent screening.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression, Postpartum / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / standards*
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians, Family* / education
  • Physicians, Family* / standards
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires