Pediatricians Miss Opportunities for Maternal Depression Screenings

Fewer than 50% of pediatricians ask about maternal depression during office visits, a startling finding that could mean many cases of such depression are overlooked and left untreated.

Bonnie D Kerker, PhD, associate professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center, and colleagues analyzed data from the American Academy of Pediatrics Periodic Surveys. A recent such survey covered 321 non-trainee, general practice pediatricians who answered questions about maternal mental health, access to services and training in mental health in 2013.

The results were compared to a sample of 457 pediatricians who were posed the same questions in 2004 In the nine-year gap between when the two surveys were conducted,  the percentage of pediatricians who regularly asked about maternal depression increased from 33 to 44%, the researchers reported in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics.

Providers may be hesitant to screen if they don’t have feasible treatment options to offer their patients,” Dr Kerker said in a statement. “While some women may need intensive mental health treatment, others may have mild symptoms that, if left untreated, could become more serious.

“Offering low-cost preventive interventions that can be implemented by broader teams of mental health providers could reduce symptoms and prevent severe depression among at-risk women,” she added.

The authors conclude that better educating future physicians on the relationship between the importance of family health to a child’s well-being would benefit both children and their families.


Kerker BD, et al. Identifying Maternal Depression in Pediatric Primary Care: Changes Over a Decade. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2016; 37(2):113-120.