Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have uncovered two genes that could be used to identify and prevent the onset of postnatal depression (PND).
The genes can be recognised through a simple blood test that experts hope will be available in the next two years.
Samples were taken from 52 expectant mothers and the results found an 85 per cent accuracy rate in predicting PND.
It is understood that women who have the genes may be vulnerable to the effects of pregnancy hormones on the brain, which could leave them more susceptible to stress and influence how they adjust to the difficulties associated with motherhood.
Identifying the illness early means that women at high risk could seek treatment sooner to reduce the severity of symptoms or prevent them from developing at all.
Researcher, Dr Zachary Kaminsky said, "Post-partum depression can be harmful to both mother and child.
“But we don’t have a reliable way to screen for the condition before it causes harm. A test like this could be the way.”
Evidence suggests that as many as one in seven new mums, and one in 20 new fathers, are diagnosed with postnatal depression each year in Australia.
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety can present during pregnancy or after birth, and may develop quite suddenly or more gradually over several months.
Dr Kaminsky said, “With more research this could prove to be a powerful tool.”
If you are worried about mental health problems in yourself or a friend, talk to your GP or any other health professional. You can find out more at Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) and Post & Antenatal Depression Association, PANDA (1300 726 306). For immediate help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.