New clinical guidelines in Singapore target maternal depression, a growing public health concern

First clinical guidelines on perinatal mental health have been released by Singapore’s healthcare system in response to the growing public health concern of maternal depression.

In a medical conference on Friday (Feb 17), Senior Minister of State for Health and Communications and Information Dr Janil Puthucheary unveiled guidelines to combat rising maternal depression in Singapore.

According to the main women’s hospital here, 47 percent more patients were screened positive for postnatal depression between April 2021 and March 2022 than the year before.

KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) said the spike reflects patterns seen in other countries during the pandemic.

During pregnancy and after childbirth, untreated depression can have adverse effects on both mother and child.

In severe cases, mothers who are mentally vulnerable may be at risk of suicide because they cannot bond with their infants or function normally.

Associating Professor Helen Chen, head of KKH’s Department of Psychological Medicine and chair of the guidelines workgroup for the guidelines, said that maternal depression can affect a child’s brain development, temperament, behaviour and readiness for school.

According to her, the situation is urgent, as Singapore is entering an endemic phase. There are several approaches to preventing the negative effects of maternal depression: Early screening, prompt treatment for anxiety and depression, preferably even before a woman becomes pregnant.


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