Introduction: Postnatal depression affects 14% of women, occurring also antenatally, with potential long-term consequences, making it an important disorder to detect and manage early. In this study we sought to examine knowledge and awareness of perinatal depression in health professionals involved in perinatal care throughout Australia prior to the implementation of a comprehensive screening program, aimed at improving detection and access to appropriate management.
Methods: A random sample of General Practitioners (GPs) and Maternal Child Health Nurses (MCHNs) and Midwives, in regions throughout Australia to be subsequently targeted by a screening and education program, were invited to participate. Responses to a hypothetical vignette and a knowledge questionnaire, as well as details of experience were completed.
Findings: Questionnaires were completed by 246 GPs, 338 MCHNs and 569 midwives, with overall response rates; GP's 23%; MCHN's 55% and midwives 57%. Although knowledge level was similar among professional groups, MCHNs had higher levels of awareness of perinatal depression. Both GPs and MCHNs were more likely than midwives to recognize the need for providing help to women with emotional distress. Depression was more likely to be considered postnatally than antenatally in all groups, with GPs most likely to provide this diagnosis. GPs had a significant propensity to recommend antidepressants, and midwives to select non-specific medications.
Conclusions: Health professionals responding to this survey had a high awareness and similar knowledge base. Further education on antenatal depression and the safety risks and alternatives to medication is important for all groups, but particularly important for midwives and GPs. The latter is especially relevant given the preference for women with perinatal depression not to use pharmacological interventions to treat their emotional distress.