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Marcé Society Position on Assessment & Screening

Marcé International Society Position Statement 2013

 Download the complete Marcé Society position statement here 

The case for undertaking universal psychosocial assessment (including depression screening) of women during the ‘perinatal period’ has attracted much interest, and vigorous debate [1]. The following position statement aims to articulate the arguments contributing to the debate and thus provide guidance to assist decision-making by clinicians, policy makers and health services.

Aims of the Position Statement

  • To outline the general principles and concepts involved in psychosocial assessment and depression screening;
  • To outline the current debate regarding benefits and risks in this area of practice including the clinical benefits and the ethical, cultural and resource implications of undertaking universal psychosocial assessment in the primary health care setting;
  • To provide a document that will assist with advocacy for the development of perinatal mental health services in the primary care setting.

This document does not set out to make specific recommendations about psychosocial assessment and depression screening (as these will need to be devised locally depending on existing resources and models of care) nor does it attempt to summarise the vast evidence-base relevant to this debate.

The perinatal period (pregnancy and the first postnatal year) is a time of great adjustment for all parents, made more challenging by the presence of existing psychosocial risk factors (or morbidity). Key risk factors for poor perinatal emotional adjustment include a history of past or antenatal anxiety or major depression, other mental health disorder or substance misuse, lack of supports, issues in partner relationship, a history of trauma (including adverse childhood events and domestic violence), isolation (physical, mental, cultural), stressful life events, poverty, and personality vulnerabilities e.g., low self-esteem or high trait anxiety [2-5].

The presence of psychosocial morbidity (especially high levels of anxiety and stress) in pregnancy can adversely impact on fetal development with associated suboptimal cognitive, emotional and behavioural outcomes in the offspring as identified in a number of large prospective cohort studies [6]. Postnatal depression may also impact on infant outcomes [7].

In many high income and developing countries, pregnancy and the postnatal period are opportunistic periods for health education due to the frequency of contact with health care providers. Expectant and new parents are often highly motivated to seek help in effecting change for the sake of their offspring and potential reduction in intergenerational family dysfunction. The perinatal period thus provides clinicians with a unique opportunity to address the psychological, social and physical health of their clients, and to consider universal psychosocial assessment as part of mainstream maternity and postnatal care. Early identification and treatment of psychosocial morbidity are especially important in relation to the functioning of the family unit and the critical parent-infant relationship with potential to positively impact on the health of the next generation. Equally important is the need to address adverse social circumstances (where possible) and history of current or past violence and trauma [8, 9]. With the research focus to date focussing mainly on perinatal depression, interpersonal violence and past trauma have tended to be under-investigated as potential key risk and mediating factors.

Major depression – often accompanied by anxiety disorder and personality vulnerability – is the most common condition presenting in the postnatal period [10, 11], and may be associated with negative outcomes for mother, partner, infant and family. Such episodes can be new in onset or the recurrence of a pre-existing condition. In high income countries, the prevalence of major depression in the nine month pregnancy interval is 12.7%; and 7.1% in the first 3 months postpartum [12].

Large population studies demonstrate an increased risk of new onset psychiatric episodes, especially major depression and puerperal psychoses, arising in the first few months postpartum [13], while risk of relapse of pre-existing mood disorder, often following the cessation of medication, increases significantly both in pregnancy and in the postnatal period [14-16], especially bipolar disorder [17]. Maternal death associated with psychosocial morbidity (including substance misuse and interpersonal violence) has become one of the leading causes of maternal deaths in high income countries [18, 19]. There is a 70 fold increased risk of suicide in the first postnatal year after admission for a severe psychiatric episode compared to at other times in a woman’s life [20].

The evidence base for depression screening in the perinatal period has been extensively examined in the process of developing the 2007 British [4], 2012 Scottish [5] and 2011 Australian [21] Clinical Practice Guidelines which are all underpinned by systematic literature reviews (SLR). These three Guidelines vary in their degree of recommendation for or against the use of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS, [22]), with the Australian Guidelines recommending for its universal use within an integrated screening program; while the Scottish (SIGN) and British (NICE) CPGLs suggest its use only as an adjunct to clinical practice. An AHRQ 2013 systematic review of screening for postnatal depression [23] concludes that while current depression screening instruments are reasonably sensitive and specific in detecting postpartum depression, there is insufficient evidence to allow the benefits and harms of depression screening to be clearly balanced-or to ascertain whether the use of specific assessment tools/strategies would result in better outcomes.

While the Australian guidelines note the use of universal psychosocial assessment programs as a good practice point, in addition to the assessment of mother-infant dyads, neither of the SIGN or NICE Guidelines comment on the value of broader psychosocial assessment as defined in the current position statement. For more detail, the three sets of Clinical Practice Guidelines recommendations are summarised in Appendix 1 and Table 1. It is important to note that recommendations carry a variable weight dependent on the quality of the evidence at the time of guideline development, hence the variation in degree of recommendation by different guidelines for the use of, for example, the EPDS.

Key Definitions and Concepts in Perinatal Mental Health
Before proceeding to articulate the debate, we need to define the terminology and concepts that have arisen over the last two decades in the field of perinatal mental health.

1. The perinatal period: has been defined in different ways, but for the purposes of this document, it is defined as the period spanning pregnancy and the first postnatal year. The use of the term ‘perinatal’ in the psychosocial setting underscores the importance of considering maternal and infant emotional wellbeing at a time when maternal risk of onset/relapse of mood disorder is highest, when maternal social and emotional vulnerabilities are often heightened, and at a critical time in the development of infant attachment. It also highlights the value of early intervention (ideally beginning in pregnancy) and the importance of detecting psychosocial issues which may impact adversely on maternal, obstetric, infant & family outcomes.

2. ‘Psychosocial morbidity’: for the purposes of this document, covers the spectrum of morbidity from diagnosable psychiatric disorders (e.g., major depression, psychosis, anxiety and bipolar
Marcé International Society Position Statement 2013 disorder) to psychosocial risk factors (as described in the background section), but may also include substance misuse; personality vulnerability/disorder and poor adjustment to parenting.

3. Prevention: preventive health care aims to reduce the burden of chronic conditions by early identification of people with risk factors or symptoms and applying appropriate interventions. It is the key premise underlying the benefits of universal psychosocial assessment & depression screening.

4. Psychosocial assessment programs: these encompass both the evaluation of current and longstanding psychological, social, and cultural risk factors impacting on the mental health of women across the perinatal period [1]. Such enquiry should cover the breadth of morbidity from the low prevalence serious mental health conditions (eg. schizophrenia, bipolar & personality disorders etc) through high prevalence conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, to the presence of risk factors that will make adjustment to parenting more difficult. Unlike screening, psychosocial assessment does not set out to identify women with a possible diagnosis of a particular condition at the time of assessment. Rather it gives us a multidimensional picture of the woman’s psychosocial circumstances which can then be used to make decisions about best care options. Given its multidimensionality, it is essential that it be undertaken as part of an integrated care program (see definition below). Psychosocial assessment may be undertaken as part of clinical interview or using a structured tool.

5. Depression Screening: Screening for current depression is generally considered as one component of psychosocial assessment in the perinatal context, and should not be seen as the only aim of such assessment. Screening can be universal, i.e. done in all women. This is in contrast to targeted screening that is only undertaken in high risk groups (e.g. young, single, substance using mothers). Screening should only take place where a validated, acceptable & user-friendly screener is integrated with further diagnostic assessment and treatment (as appropriate), dependent on ‘screen positive’ status [24, 25]. Screening tools are used for the detection of symptoms likely to be associated with a diagnosis, using an optimal cut-off score. Importantly, a screener is not a diagnostic tool. Diagnosis requires a full clinical assessment.

6. ‘Integrated’ care: the use of this term in the perinatal setting highlights the importance of:
a) Integration across health care disciplines and between primary and secondary/tertiary health care systems;

b) Integration between components of a psychosocial assessment program: including the assessment itself (including depression screening); clinician training and supervision; clear clinician decision making guidelines round appropriate care planning and referral pathways;

c) Integration across time periods (antenatal and postnatal) and service settings (e.g., hospital and community);

d) Integration of psychosocial assessment with ‘mainstream’ (physical) maternity and postnatal care.

The current debate
Two key themes in current debate among perinatal clinicians, researchers, and policy-makers are: 1) the benefits (clinical and cost) vs. harms of a) universal psychosocial assessment and b) depression screening; and 2) undertaking such activity in resource-constrained settings.

1. The benefits vs. harms of universal psychosocial assessment and depression screening:
The debate in relation to universal depression screening encompasses a number of factors: the potential misuse of a screener as a diagnostic tool (leading to misdiagnosis and increased prevalence reporting); or inaccuracy as a result of lack of robustness in terms of the screener’s psychometric properties i.e., sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive value (PPV i.e. the number of ‘positive screeners’ who actually have a diagnosis), and clinically optimal cut-off point. The most recent estimate of PPV is around 62% [26]; meaning that about 38% of women scoring >13 on the EPDS may be incorrectly diagnosed as having major depression if no further assessment is undertaken. This has led one author to highlight the potential risk for ‘overpathologising’ the presence of postnatal symptoms [27], with possible harm caused to the woman and in terms of cost to the system. . The other key concern is around availability of resources to support perinatal depression screening programs.

In the UK, universal depression screening using the EPDS (+/- the Whooley questions- see Appendix 1) is considered as potentially causing more harm than good [28] and not seen as cost-effective [29] on current available data. Interestingly, the US Prevention Task Force [30] recommends in favour of depression screening for the general population given good evidence of clinical benefit when it is undertaken in an enhanced care setting [31]. Such an approach has not yet been assessed in the perinatal setting.

Psychosocial assessment, which entails enquiring about the woman’s overall psychosocial wellbeing (including past and current conditions as opposed to possible current depression), as part of maternity and postnatal care, clearly indicates to the woman that her clinician is interested in her overall wellbeing. There is a strong argument for considering such enquiry part of routine care – where physical and emotional care is integrated within the primary health care context. While some will disagree with the routine use of a depression screener (for the reasons outlined above) most clinicians would argue that psychosocial assessment has value in its own right (irrespective of availability of comprehensive psychosocial services) as a means of:

a) Opening up the conversation about psychosocial issues including those that impact the family more broadly (e.g., intimate partner violence, supports, help-seeking) and that can be addressed by non-mental health trained care providers.

b) Raising awareness and educating pregnant women/mothers and their carers about the fact that psychiatric and psychosocial conditions deserve to be treated; that difficulties in the parent-infant interaction may arise at this time; and that effective treatments and supports are available, should these problems arise.

The debate relating to universal psychosocial assessment is less contentious and tends to centre on the need to define methodologies and care models (e.g., use of structured questionnaires versus general unstructured enquiry, within an integrated care model) that are suited to local circumstances. Examples of structured psychosocial assessment tools include the ALPHA[32], ANRQ [33] and ARPA [34]. Where psychosocial assessment programs are undertaken, primary care clinicians will need adequate psychosocial assessment skills training and ongoing clinical supervision from the mental health sector. Such integrated assessment care models, which must include a substantial training component, have begun to be implemented in Australia especially in maternity, and early childhood settings, but have yet to be evaluated [33-35].

Ultimately training and support for the primary health sector is likely to reduce the frequency of referrals to mental health services as these practitioners become more confident and skilled with managing women with milder psychosocial risk and depression or anxiety.

Of relevance to the debate, is the growing evidence that low intensity interventions (e.g., internet based programs), social support, peer support and self-help are effective in the management of milder mood or adjustment disorders [36-38], and may circumvent the perceived increased workload for the health care sector as a whole. Ultimately long-term follow up studies are needed to evaluate the benefits and costs for the wellbeing of mothers, infants and families and society.

2. Psychosocial assessment and depression screening in resource-constrained countries:

In most of the 112 low and lower-middle income countries (where the majority of the world’s women live) there are insufficient services for safe pregnancy and birth let alone recognition of psychosocial problems. In some settings the mental health services are limited to custodial institutions which provide poor quality and at times what would be considered, by world standards, abusive care. We must thus be cognisant of the context in which psychosocial assessment is undertaken while minimising its potential to worsen the woman’s predicament due to increased stigmatisation or even abuse [39].

Equally, identifying psychosocial risk factors (including those associated with poor antenatal attendance and nutrition) in resource-constrained countries has the potential to impact both the mental and physical health of women in pregnancy, thereby improving obstetric and offspring outcomes [40, 41]. In more economically advanced countries, much can now be undertaken by primary health care workers, both in regard to depression screening and broader psychosocial assessment.

Finally, we need to be mindful that depression screening instruments (mostly developed in Western settings) perform very differently in resource-constrained countries where there may be a very different understanding of concepts such as “depression”. In such situations women may have fewer words to describe their emotional experiences and needs. As their lives are chronically difficult, questions that assess whether they are feeling worse than usual are invariably answered ‘no’. The use of different cut-offs on screening tools will thus need to be evaluated in such settings [42]. Development of local methods for screening based on the needs of, and acceptability to, that specific culture, are recommended.

In summary while there is no simple answer to the question of whether ‘there is a place for universal psychosocial assessment (including depression screening) without adequate referral services’, not undertaking such assessment because of the complexity of issues or a lack of mental health resources, overlooks the critical role of psychosocial wellbeing in maternal and infant outcomes.

There is now a growing, although not unanimous, view within the International Marcé Society in favour of undertaking universal psychosocial assessment in perinatal women, as long as it takes place within an integrated care model. It is generally recognised by clinicians that such assessment holds intrinsic value in terms of educating women and families and ‘starting the conversation’ about psychosocial issues. How exactly this takes place must be decided at a local health service level (see Box below for more detail).

Future Directions: building the evidence base
In order to inform clinicians looking for guidance & policy makers in setting funding priorities we need:

  • Develop and evaluate methods for undertaking integrated psychosocial assessment (including structured assessment tools and training programs) appropriate to specific settings and health service organisational structures.
  • Develop a range of evidence-based treatment options to support routine assessment; from self-help, low intensity interventions to increased access to specialist perinatal and infant mental health services.
  • Collect cost-effectiveness data pertaining to the outcomes of both mothers and infants both in relation to depression screening and broader psychosocial assessment.
  • Build evidence in resource-constrained countries and validate appropriate instruments to improve recognition of psychosocial morbidity. Consideration also needs to be given to engagement in violence reduction strategies and sector wide education about universal emotional needs that are likely to benefit many women without the need for individual treatment.

Guiding principles underpinning Universal Psychosocial Assessment & Depression Screening Programs – International Marcé Society Position Statement 2013

Where the provision of universal psychosocial assessment and care for perinatal women in the primary care setting is being considered, the following principles need to be considered:

The value of combining assessment of both the physical and emotional health and welfare of women in the perinatal period.

The impact of psychosocial morbidity on the transition to parenthood andinfant attachment and development.

  • Universal psychosocial assessment programs that combine evaluation of the psychosocial context/risk factors and detection of possible current depression; as well as integrating assessment with further care.
  • There is no one model for psychosocial assessment. Local methods for psychosocial assessment that are acceptable, easy to administer and interpret, and can be integrated within local care models/programs, will work best.
  • Timing and frequency of assessment: ideally both in pregnancy (as part of routine maternity care) and at an appropriate time postpartum (e.g. 3 months).
  • Adequate training and support of primary health care providers(undertaking integrated psychosocial assessment) by the mental health sector is essential.
  • Enquiry about a history of past mood disorder or puerperal psychosisshould be included within all psychosocial assessment; given its greatly increased risk of recurrence in the postnatal period.
  • The safety of mothers and infants needs to be taken into consideration at all times.
  • Not undertaking psychosocial assessment because of the complexity of issues it may uncover, and/or lack of psychosocial resources, overlooks the critical role of psychosocial wellbeing in maternal and infant outcomes. Such assessment holds intrinsic value in terms of educating women and families and ‘starting the conversation’ about psychosocial issues.
  • Mobilizing social supports will be a key first line of intervention, and is independent of formal professional input.
  • Programs need to facilitate access to a range of low cost, primary care psychosocial interventions that can assist women with problems in the mild to moderate range (the majority of cases).
  • A collaborative approach to management, where the mother’s preferences with respect to referral options and/ or treatment plan are taken into account, should be adopted.
  • Programs need to ensure that perinatal psychosocial care is culturally responsive and family-centred
  • Optimally there should be provision of referral by the primary sector to specialist perinatal psychosocial services with consideration of a stepped care model approach.
  • There is a need to develop the evidence base to address the best approach to psychosocial assessment programs & appropriate care models suited to local needs; as well as consideration of evaluating the costs versus the benefits.


1. Austin, M.-P., Antenatal screening and early intervention for ‘perinatal’ distress, depression and anxiety: where to from here? Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2004. 7: p. 1-6.
2. O’Hara, M., Swain, A., Rates and risk of post-partum depression: a meta-analysis. International Review of Psychiatry, 1996. 8: p. 37-54.
3. Milgrom, J., et al., Antenatal risk factors for postnatal depression: A large prospective study. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2008. 108(1-2): p. 147-157.
4. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), Antenatal and postnatal mental health: The NICE guidelines on clinical management and service guidance CG45. National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health. The British Psychological Society & Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2007.
5. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN), Management of perinatal mood disorders (SIGN Publication no. 127). March 2012, Edinburgh: Available from URL: http://www.sign.ac.uk.
6. Talge, N.M., C. Neal, and V. Glover, Antenatal maternal stress and long-term effects on child neurodevelopment: How and why? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 2007. 48(3-4): p. 245-261.
7. Murray, L. and P.J. Cooper, Postpartum depression and child development. Psychol Med, 1997. 27(2): p. 253-60.
8. Howard, L., et al., Domestic Violence and Perinatal Mental Disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Medicine, 2013. 10(5): p. 1-16.
9. Seng, J.S., et al., Post-traumatic stress disorder, child abuse history, birthweight and gestational age: a prospective cohort study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2011. 118(11): p. 1329-1339.
10. Austin, M.-P., et al., Depressive and anxiety disorders in the postpartum period: how prevalent are they and can we improve their detection? Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 2010. 13(5):395-401.
11. Wisner, K.L., et al., Onset timing, thoughts of self-harm, and diagnoses in postpartum women with screen-positive depression findings. JAMA Psychiatry, 2013. [epub ahead of print].
12. Gaynes, B.N., et al., Perinatal depression: prevalence, screening accuracy, and screening outcomes. Evidence Report / Technology Assessment, 2005. 118: p. 1-225.
13. Munk-Olsen, T., et al., New parents and mental disorders: a population-based register study. JAMA, 2006. 296(21): p. 2582-9.
14. Cohen, L.S., et al., Relapse of major depression during pregnancy in women who maintain or discontinue antidepressant treatment. JAMA, 2006. 295(5): p. 499-507.
15. Viguera, A.C, et al., Risk of recurrence of bipolar disorder in pregnant and nonpregnant women after discontinuing lithium maintenance. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2000. 157: p. 179-184.
16. Viguera, A.C., et al., Risk of recurrence in women with bipolar disorder during pregnancy: prospective study of mood stabilizer discontinuation. Am J Psychiatry, 2007. 164(12): p. 1817-24.
17. Munk-Olsen, T., et al., Risks and predictors of readmission for a mental disorder during the postpartum period. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2009. 66(2): p. 189-195.
18. Oates, M., Suicide: the leading cause of maternal death. British Journal of Psychiatry, 2003. 183: p. 279-281.
19. Austin, M.P., et al, Maternal mortality and psychiatric morbidity in the perinatal period: challenges and opportunities for prevention in the Australian setting. Medical Journal of Australia, 2007. 186: 364-367.
20. Appleby, L., P.B. Mortensen, and E.B. Faragher, Suicide and other causes of mortality after post-partum psychiatric admission. British Journal of Psychiatry, 1998. 173: p. 209-211.
21. Austin, M.-P., N. Highet, and and the Guideline Expert Advisory Committee, Australian Clinical Practice Guidelines for Depression and Related Disorders — Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder and Puerperal Psychosis — in the Perinatal Period. A Guideline for Primary Care Health Professionals 2011, Melbourne: beyondblue: the national depression initiative.
22. Cox, J.L., et al, Detection of postnatal depression. Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 1987. 150(6): 782-6.
23. Myers, E.R., et al., Efficacy and Safety of Screening for Postpartum Depression. Comparative Effectiveness Review 106., 2013, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Rockville, MD.
24. Wilson, J.M.G. and G. Jungner, Principles and practices of screening for disease. Geneva: World Health Organization; Public Health Papers No. 34., 1968.
25. Raffle, A.E. and J.A. Muir Gray, Screening: Evidence and practice. 2007, Oxford University Press.
26. Milgrom, J., J. Mendelsohn, and A.W. Gemmill, Does postnatal depression screening work? Throwing out the bathwater, keeping the baby. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2011. 132(3): 301-10.
27. Matthey, S., Are we overpathologising motherhood? Journal of Affective Disorders. 120: p. 263-6.
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Psychosocial Assessment and Depression Screening in Perinatal Women
28. Hill, C., An evaluation of screening for postnatal depression against NSC criteria, 2010 UK National Screening Committee London.
29. Paulden, M., et al., Screening for postnatal depression in primary care: cost effectiveness analysis. BMJ, 2009. 2210(340): p. b5203. doi:10.1136/bmj.b5203.
30. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, Screening for Depression in Adults: Recommendation Statement. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2009. 151(11): p. 784-792.
31. Wells, K.B., et al., Impact of disseminating quality improvement programs for depression in managed primary care: a randomized controlled trial.[Erratum appears in JAMA 2000 Jun 28;283(24):3204]. JAMA, 2000. 283(2): p. 212-20.
32. Carroll, J.C., et al., Effectiveness of the Antenatal Psychosocial Health Assessment (ALPHA) form in detecting psychosocial concerns: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ, 2005. 173(3): p. 253-9.
33. Austin, M.P., et al., The Antenatal Risk Questionnaire (ANRQ): Acceptabilty and use for psychosocial risk assessment in the maternity setting Women & Birth, 2013. 26: p. 17-25.
34. Matthey, S., et al., Routine psychosocial assessment of women in the antenatal period: frequency of risk factors and implications for clinical services. Arch Womens Ment Health, 2004. 7(4): p. 223-9.
35. Austin, M.-P., et al, Antenatal psychosocial assessment for reducing antenatal and postnatal mental health morbidity. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2008(4).
36. Dennis, C.L. and E. Hodnett, Psychosocial and psychological interventions for treating postpartum depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2007(4): p. CD006116.
37. Dennis, C.L., et al., Effect of peer support on prevention of postnatal depression among high risk women: multisite randomised controlled trial. BMJ, 2009. 338(jan15_2): p. a3064-.
38. Dennis, C.L., Intensive postpartum support for postnatal depression has the most beneficial outcome – meta-analysis. Evidence-based Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2006. 8(3-4): p. 94-95.
39. Fisher, J., et al, Pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period Mental health aspects of women’s reproductive health : a global review of the literature. Geneva: WHO Library, 2009.
40. Rahman, A., et al., Maternal depression increases infant risk of diarrhoeal illness: –a cohort study. Arch Dis Child, 2007. 92(1): p. 24-8.
41. Patel, V., et al., Treatment and prevention of mental disorders in low-income and middle-income countries. The Lancet, 2007. 370(9591): p. 991-1005.
42. Fisher, J., et al., Prevalence and determinants of common perinatal mental disorders in women in low- and lower-middle-income countries: a systematic review. Bulletin WHO, 2012. 90. 139G-149G.

Membership of Position Statement Advisory

Marie-Paule Austin (lead) St John of God Health Care Prof Perinatal & Women’s Mental Health, University NSW, Australia. Chair Australian (beyondblue) Guidelines Perinatal Depression & associated Disorders.
Gisele Apter Director Perinatal & Child Psychiatry Erasme Hospital, University Paris Diderot, France.
Bryanne Barnett, Perinatal Psychiatrist, St John of God Health Care & University NSW, Sydney, Australia.
Angela Bowen, Lead Maternal Mental Health & A/Professor Nursing, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Roch Cantwell, Perinatal Psychiatrist, Southern General Hospital; Glasgow Scotland; chair SIGN Guidelines.
Prabha Chandra, Professor Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences, Bangalore, India.
Linda Chaudron, Professor, Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Ob/Gyn, University of Rochester, USA.
Jane Fisher Jean Hailes Professor Women’s Health, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
Jane Hanley, President International Marcé Society, College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University, Wales, Great Britain.
Nicole Highet, Executive Director Centre for Perinatal Excellence (COPE), Australia.
Jane Honikman, Founder Postpartum Support International, USA
Jeannette Milgrom Professor & Director Parent-Infant Research Institute, University Melbourne, Australia.
Anne-Laure Sutter-Dallay, Head Perinatal Psychiatry, University of Bordeaux, France
Katherine Wisner, Asher Professor of Psychiatry & Ob/Gyn, Northwestern University, USA.

Acknowledgements: We gratefully acknowledge the support of the International Marcé Society & St John of God Health Care in compiling the Advisory Committee’s comments.

Suggested reference: Marcé International Society Position Statement (2013). Psychosocial Assessment and Depression Screening for Women in the Perinatal Period.


Summary of National level Clinical Practice Guidelines for psychosocial assessment and Depression Screening (see also Table 1)

Over the last 10 years, three National level Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGLs) have been developed. In addition, we have an extensive review of the use of the EPDS for depression screening perinatally from the US (AHRQ 2013 not summarised here). Each of these CPGLs is underpinned by a systematic literature review (SLR) and includes a number of graded evidence-based recommendations and good practice points. Each CPGL addresses two key domains:

1) Model of psychosocial care. Each of the Guidelines recommend similar approaches to this:

  • Predominantly integrated, primary care based psychosocial assessment care programs with the capacity for primary care clinicians to refer onto mental health services for secondary and tertiary level care;
  • Case planning and management for complex cases, significant or severe psychosocial disorder;
  • A multidisciplinary team approach to allow for input from primary care and psychosocial clinicians and integration across disciplines;
  • Programs supported by ongoing staff education and supervision from the mental health sector.

2) Focus and method of assessment. There are significant differences between the Guidelines with respect to this as follows:

Australian (NHMRC endorsed 2011)

  • Explicitly identify the infant and family as part of the assessment and management model (vs. the British and Scottish Guidelines);
  • Recommend the use of the EPDS in both the ante- and postnatal periods for identifying possible depression (and anxiety) using the usual cut-off score postpartum;
  • Identify the value of using a structured psychosocial assessment tool in conjunction with the EPDS, and that such tools are acceptable to women and clinicians.

English and Welsh Guidelines (NICE 2007; under review; next version due 2015)

  • Recommend against routine use of EPDS although it may be used as an ‘adjunct’ to psychosocial assessment;
  • Endorse the use of two specific questions -the ‘Whooley questions’- for the detection of possible current depression in the perinatal period as follows: During the past month have you often been bothered by: 1) feeling down, depressed or hopeless? 2) Having little interest or pleasure in doing things? If yes to either of 1 or 2, would you like help with these issues?
  • In addition to the Whooley questions, endorse enquiry about past or family history of severe psychosocial disorder.
  • Use of stepped care and managed network models are recommended.
  • The Guidelines do not include specific mention of infant or family as part of the model of care.

Scottish Guidelines (SIGN 2012)

  • Recommend enquiry about depressive symptoms in pregnancy and postnatally, though noting that their SLR did not yield sufficient evidence to recommend specific tools (eg. EPDS).
  • EPDS and Whooley questions may be used to monitor and facilitate discussion of emotional issues.
  • Screen for risk of early postpartum major mental disorder.
  • The Guidelines recommend that, where there is evidence of impairment in the mother-infant relationship, additional interventions specifically directed at that intervention, should be offered.