Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Special Report: Is There a Role for Pediatricians in Managing Maternal Depression?

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A study funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation(RWJF)shows how pediatricians can assist in detecting depression in mothers and providing support services. Mothers realize that their emotional health can affect their childrenÂ?s sense of well being. They want a support system that allows them to talk about their parenting experiences, the stresses they face and any depressive symptoms they exhibit.

More than 12 million women in the United States suffer from depression, and new mothers are believed to be particularly vulnerable. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) funded a study to determine if mothers discuss parenting stress and depressive symptoms with their children's pediatrician. The answer is usually no, the study's findings suggest.

Researcher Amy M. Heneghan, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University/Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, led the study, published in the March 1, 2004, issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“Despite the fact that mothers want to turn to their pediatricians to talk about stress and depression, they fear being judged, says Dr. Heneghan. “Therefore, they want to put their best foot forward when they talk to their child's doctor. It was surprising that mothers were so consistent about that.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded research suggests a role for pediatricians in detecting and providing support services for mothers with symptoms of stress and depression. The study encourages development of a consistent relationship between mothers and pediatricians, which can help build an atmosphere of trust and open the way for identification and treatment of maternal depression.

The researchers conclude that pediatricians could do the following:

*Be aware of worrisome signs and symptoms of depression in mothers and of the consequences of untreated maternal depression

*Provide mothers with written information about parenting groups, community resources, and mental health professionals.

*Since mothers often don't have a physician of their own, link moms with a primary care physician.

A special report, "Is There a Role for Pediatricians in Managing Maternal Depression?" can be found on The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Web site at:

This online feature includes an exclusive interview with Dr. Heneghan, key findings from the report, an RWJF Television Health Series webcast on maternal depression, and access to the complete Pediatrics journal article.


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