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The development of an ultra-short, maternal mental health screening tool in South Africa

  • T. van Heyningen (a1) (a2), L. Myer (a2), M. Tomlinson (a3), S. Field (a1) and S. Honikman (a1)...



The burden of common perinatal mental disorders (CPMD) in low-and-middle-income countries is substantially higher than high-income countries, with low levels of detection, service provision and treatment in resource-constrained settings. We describe the development of an ultra-short screening tool to detect antenatal depression, anxiety disorders and maternal suicidal ideation.


A sample of 376 women was recruited at a primary-level obstetric clinic. Five depression and anxiety symptom-screening questionnaires, demographics and psychosocial risk questionnaires were administered. All participants were assessed with the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI), a structured, diagnostic interview. Screening tool items were analysed against diagnostic data using multiple logistic regression and receiver operating curve (ROC) analysis.


The prevalence of MINI-defined major depressive episode (MDE) and/or anxiety disorders was 33%. Overall, 18% of participants expressed suicidal ideation and behaviour, 54% of these had no depression or anxiety diagnosis. Multiple logistic regression identified four screening items that were independently predictive of MDE and anxiety disorders, investigating depressed mood, anhedonia, anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation. ROC analysis of these combined items yielded an area under the curve of 0.83 (95% CI 0.78–0.88). A cut-off score of 2 or more offered a sensitivity of 78% and specificity of 82%.


This novel screening tool is the first measure of CPMD developed in South Africa to include depressed mood, anxiety symptoms and suicidal ideation. While the tool requires further investigation, it may be useful for the early identification of mental health symptoms and morbidity in the perinatal period.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: T. van Heyningen, Perinatal Mental Health Project, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa. (Email:


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The development of an ultra-short, maternal mental health screening tool in South Africa

  • T. van Heyningen (a1) (a2), L. Myer (a2), M. Tomlinson (a3), S. Field (a1) and S. Honikman (a1)...


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