Background. Postnatal depression has a relatively high incidence and gives rise to considerable morbidity. There is sound evidence supporting the use of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale as a screening tool for possible postnatal depression.
Aim. This paper reports on a project developed by two health visitors and a community mental health nurse working in the United Kingdom. The aim of the project was to improve the early detection and treatment of postnatal depression in the population of the general practice to which they were attached.
Method. The health visitors screened for postnatal depression in the course of routine visits on four occasions during the first postpartum year. Women identified as likely to be suffering from postnatal depression were offered ‘listening visits’ as a first-line intervention, with referral on to the general practitioner and/or community mental health nurse if indicated.
Findings. Data collected over 3 years showed that the project succeeded in its aim of enhancing early detection and treatment of postnatal depression. These findings replicate those of other studies. The data also showed that a substantial number of women were identified for the first time as likely to be suffering from postnatal depression at 12 months postpartum. Women screened for the first time at 12 months were at greater risk than those who had been screened earlier than this.
Conclusions. Health visitors should screen for postnatal depression throughout the period of their contact with mothers, not solely in the immediate postnatal period. It is particularly important to screen women who, for whatever reason, were not screened when their child was younger. The knowledge and skills needed to use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and provide first-line intervention and onward referral can be developed at practitioner level through close collaborative working.