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Therapy over the internet may help with postnatal depression

Treatment for postnatal depression over the internet might be a useful option for new mums, says a new study.
By Grant Stewart

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

sad woman

Postnatal depression is common. It affects about 1 in 8 new mothers. It can make them feel anxious, sad, guilty, and unable to care properly for their baby. It’s important that women get help, not only for themselves, but to avoid long-term problems for their children. Women with postnatal depression can get help from their doctor and health visitor.

But many women suffering with postnatal depression don’t get any help. One reason is that doctors and other health workers often don’t recognise when a new mother is having problems - after all, being a new mum is a tough job. Another reason why women don’t get help is that they don’t ask. This might be because they are afraid that they will be thought of as ‘bad’ mothers. They might even worry that their baby will be taken away if they admit that they are struggling to cope.

But there is plenty of help available. New mothers often prefer ‘talking treatments’ ( psychological therapy) over taking antidepressant medicines. But fitting appointments around a baby’s nap times and feeds is hard enough even when you’re not struggling with depression.

In the new study the researchers wanted to find out whether getting psychological help over the internet might have some advantages over face-to-face therapy for some women. For example, it means women don’t have to travel to appointments, but can fit the therapy into their schedules when they have time. It’s also more anonymous. This might make some women feel more relaxed about giving sensitive information than they would face to face with a therapist.

The researchers looked at an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme called Netmums Helping With Depression (NetmumsHWD). This programme includes 12 ‘modules’ for mothers with depression - one a week for 12 weeks. The modules cover areas including understanding depression, moving out of depression, feeding difficulties, and what to do when things get tough. Mums also get a support phone call each week throughout the course.

About 80 new mothers who had postnatal depression took part in the study. Half of the mums used the NetmumsHWD programme while the others had ‘treatment as usual’. All the mums in the study had access to the Netmums online general depression chat room, which offered help from health visitors and parent supporters.

At the end of the study, all the women filled in questionnaires about their depression symptoms.

What does the new study say?

The study found that the mothers who used the online therapy programme had improved depression symptoms compared with the mothers who didn’t use the programme. And the improvement in symptoms was big enough to be considered important by doctors.

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