Researchers at the University of Exeter in England teamed with online forum Netmums in two studies to investigate the feasibility of an Internet-based Behavioral Action treatment for postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression (PND).
The researchers noted that between 10 and 30 percent of new mothers are affected by postpartum depression, but many cases go unreported and few women seek help.
The study found that mothers who received the Internet-based treatment reported better results for depression, work and social impairment. The mothers also reported better anxiety scores immediately after they received the treatment, according to the researchers.
Furthermore, they reported better results for depression six months after treatment, the researchers noted.
The results, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, indicate that Internet-based treatment could have a positive effect on postpartum depression as a whole, providing new mothers with support at times that are convenient to them. It also allows them to complete a course of therapy, the researchers said.
“The high number of cases of PND, and the comparatively poor take-up of help from those affected by it, are worrying,” said Heather O’Mahen, Ph.D., from the University of Exeter, who led the study.
She noted that this study, coupled with another recently published study by the same research team that looked at a self-help version of the treatment delivered online, are the first to investigate “the effectiveness of using an Internet-based therapy to provide mums with PND with the support they would have traditionally received in a clinic-based environment. The results are enough to convince us that such an approach is indeed a feasible one.”
“Our hope is that this will allow more women to access and benefit from support, with all the knock-on positives that come from that — happier families, improved quality of life for mums, and a reduction in the demands such cases can bring to stretched health services around the world,” she said.
“This treatment is an accessible and potentially cost-effective option, and one that could easily be incorporated into mental healthcare provision.”
For the study, the researchers designed a 12-session, modular, Internet BA treatment that was supported by telephone calls with a mental health worker. A total of 249 mothers were recruited via the UK parenting site Netmums.com.
The mothers received information about the program through Netmums newsletter advertisements, emails and online advertisements. They completed online forms and were asked questions about their mood in a telephone interview with a research assistant.
Of those, 83 met the criteria for “major depressive disorder,” the researchers report. These women were randomly split into two groups: One received “treatment as usual,” while the other group participated in the Internet-based treatment, according to the researchers.
Women in the Internet treatment group could sign onto the online program and chose modules relevant to their needs, such as “ being a good enough mum,” “changing roles and relationships,” “sleep” and “communication.” The women had weekly telephone sessions with a mental health worker who helped support the women through the program.
Mothers reported favoring therapy over drug-based solutions, especially if they are breastfeeding.
The researchers add that for many new mothers, accessing traditional clinic-based therapy is difficult because “transportation, childcare, variable feeding and nap times all conspire to make it hard to keep appointments.”
“It is critical to provide new mothers with treatments that work for them,” the researchers concluded.
Source: University of Exeter