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Making Sense of the 2016 Depression Screening Guidelines

Making Sense of the 2016 Depression Screening GuidelinesAs it did in 2002 and again in 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has once again recommended that primary care physicians and family doctors routinely screen for clinical depression in their patients. Why? Because undiagnosed and untreated depression remains one of the greatest public health problems of modern times.

For the first time ever, the new guidelines also recommend that screenings be conducted during and after pregnancy, as many women are susceptible to postpartum depression. Symptoms of postpartum depression can crop up not only after birth, but also during a mom’s pregnancy.

What do these new depression screening guidelines mean for you?

Too many people believe they can “just get through” an episode of major depression on their own, without treatment. And for a small minority of people, this may work. But for most people, it means needless suffering for months on end — overwhelming feelings of sadness, of loneliness, of a purposeless life.

Screenings — your doc asking a simple set of quick questions while in the exam room — help to quickly determine whether a person may suffer from a disorder. In this case, the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) is often used, because it is a scientifically-valid instrument and takes literally a minute or two to complete.

The 2016 guidelines (Siu et al., 2016) say that all adults should be screened for depression, regardless of whether the doctor’s office has resources to provide treatment or staff to help treat it. The authors suggest that mental health treatment is now so much more widely available — thanks to the Mental Health Parity and Affordable Care laws — that a person should have little difficulty accessing it.

The USPSTF also released a report simultaneously examining the evidence for primary care screening of depression in pregnant and postpartum women (O’Connor et al., 2016). That report found that, “Direct and indirect evidence suggested that screening pregnant and postpartum women for depression may reduce depressive symptoms in women with depression and reduce the prevalence of depression in a given population.”

The New York Times has further insight into the important of screening for depression not only after pregnancy (postpartum depression), but also during:

“It’s very significant that the task force is now putting forth a recommendation that’s specific to pregnant and postpartum women,” said Katy Kozhimannil, an associate professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. “Policy makers will pay attention to it. Increased screening and detection of depression is an enormous public health need.”

The panel gave its recommendation, which was published in the journal JAMA, a “B” rating, which means depression screening must be covered under the Affordable Care Act.

The new reports also found no evidence that screenings cause patients harm — an oft-repeated concern about increasing screenings that can now be put to rest.

“A decade ago, there was more concern that screening pregnant and postpartum women for mental health would do more harm than good,” said Wendy N. Davis, the executive director of Postpartum Support International. “Medical providers would say to me, ‘If I screen and she screens positively for depression and anxiety, I’m afraid that it will just make her feel more scared, or there’s more stigma to that label.’ ”

But, she said, “screening tools actually can give a language for both the providers and the patients to feel comfortable talking about it and prevent the stigma.”

We agree. Psych Central has been a long and vocal proponent for people taking mental health into their own hands. That’s why we’ve offered such valuable screening tools free of charge on our website for over 15 years. Our quick depression test is just 8 questions long and takes most people about a minute to complete.

While screening tools are not the same as getting an actual diagnosis, they can be a valuable first step in helping a person understand whether they should seek out further consultation or treatment for a condition. Please, if you fear you or a loved one may suffer from depression, take a depression screening today.


For further information

Read the full New York Times article: Panel Calls for Depression Screenings During and After Pregnancy

Our news article: Experts Call for MDs to Screen Adults for Depression

JAMA’s editorial: Recommendations for Screening for Depression in Adults


Siu, A.L. et al. (2016). Screening for Depression in Adults: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA, 315.

O’Connor, E. et al. (2016). Primary Care Screening for and Treatment of Depression in Pregnant and Postpartum Women: Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA, 315.

Making Sense of the 2016 Depression Screening Guidelines

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Making Sense of the 2016 Depression Screening Guidelines. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Jan 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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