Objectives: To assess paediatricians' beliefs about discussing maternal depressive symptoms during a paediatric visit, and methods paediatricians use to identify mothers with depressive symptoms.
Methods: In-depth telephone interviews were conducted with 23 primary care paediatricians from a practice-based research network. We asked a series of previously developed questions about discussing maternal depressive symptoms during a paediatric visit; methods used to identify mothers at risk; barriers encountered, and potential strategies to improve recognition and treatment of maternal depression. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. Data were codified and analysed using standard qualitative data techniques.
Results: All paediatricians agreed that it is appropriate to ask mothers about their own health during a well-child visit, because a mother's well-being affects her children. Paediatricians relied on observational cues to identify a mother with depressive symptoms, especially mother-child interactions. Few used direct questions or a checklist. Almost all paediatricians felt that lack of time was the barrier most often faced in addressing maternal depression. Lack of training, inadequate knowledge of resources and distractions encountered in the primary care setting were additional barriers cited. One-third of paediatricians acknowledged the fear of judgement and stigma that a mother may face when discussing maternal stresses. Paediatricians desired better ability to refer mothers to social workers for help.
Conclusions: Observational cues are used more often than direct questions or screening tools to identify mothers at risk of depression. This may under-identify mothers at risk. Paediatricians prefer to rely on other professionals, particularly social services, to address maternal depression, yet mothers may be hesitant or ambivalent about such assistance because of fear of judgement. Paediatricians, in fact, may be the professional mothers most want to communicate with. Thus, appreciation of mothers' perspectives, empathetic communication skills and knowledge of community resources can enhance paediatricians' abilities to assist mothers at risk for depression.