When untreated, depression has a overwhelming effect on a mother’s mental health, which may affect her relationships with her baby and her family. Which explains why several mental health advocates are encouraging mothers to go online in the battle against the disorder.
“We know many mums with PND are afraid people will think they are not good mothers,” beyondblue CEO Georgie Harmansaid.
Postnatal depression can happen to any mother, says midwife Tania Daly.
"I've had it. It's much more common than people realise."
Up to one in seven new mums are diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) in Australia each year.
beyondblue says more than half of mothers with PND don’t seek help because they worry that they will be seen as a failure, don’t know the signs of depression, or are concerned about passing medications to their baby through breast milk.
Women across the nation and their partners experiencing PND are being asked by beyondblue and their partners to seek help on the MumMoodBooster website.
“We hope they will use this online program at home to help them with their mental health and their parenting,” Harman said.
beyondblue says about 40,000 women experience PND each year in Australia by the time their baby is three months old.
MumMoodBooster, funded by beyondblue, is an online treatment for women, with online sessions, videos, and discussion forums for both mums involved in the program and their partners.
A $125,000 trial of the program by the Parent-Infant Research Institute included women from all around Australia who experienced moderate to severe PND.
Of the women who participated in existing standard care for PND, 15.8 per cent had recovered from their depression at the end of the 12-week trial. In contrast, of the women in the MumMoodBooster program, more than four times as many women (71.4 per cent) were no longer diagnosed as depressed by the end of the trial.
“Our results show that MumMoodBooster is an effective treatment option for women with clinically diagnosed PND,” lead researcher Professor Jeannette Milgrom from the Parent-Infant Research Institute said.
Milgrom says women engaged well with the program with two-thirds posting on the online community forum during the trial.
“MumMoodBooster may change the way women with PND are treated after they are diagnosed. Women can receive treatment in the comfort of their own home which in turn will help to relieve the burden on existing health services,” she said.
Harman says if implemented nationally, this program could benefit thousands of Australian women experiencing PND who are unaware that help is available, or too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help from a health professional.
“This study shows that an online program with interactive options, supported by some telephone coaching, is a very effective way of treating PND.”
Post and Antenatal Depression Association acting CEO Jenni Richardson says a helpline or online program accessible in the home that targets women after they have given birth to a child can be life changing for women.
“We hear from distressed mums who will not seek help because of the fear of being labelled a ‘bad mother’ or who struggle to leave their home due to depression or anxiety on top of the demands of a new baby,” she said.
Daly says feeling like you were not coping at some point during the early years is common to most mums.
"Even the most capable of women struggle, even if on the outside they look like they are okay.”
The Parent-Infant Research Institute partnered with Dr Brian Danaher and Dr John Steeley from the Oregon Research Institute in the US, who are behaviour change experts and spent three years (prior to the beyondblue-funded trial) developing an internet treatment intervention for women diagnosed with PND, which was funded by the National Institute of Health. The trial also received initial funding from the Windermere Foundation.
MumMoodBooster is currently seeking new mums struggling to cope for an ongoing treatment trial. To register or find out more, please go to www.mummoodbooster.com or contact a phone coach on (03) 9496 4496.