A study by McMaster University in collaboration with Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) has found public health nurse-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can lead to significant reductions in postpartum depression (PPD) and anxiety in mothers. This reduction improves mother-infant relationships, and as a result, promotes healthy social and emotional development of the child. Mothers who participated in a nine-week series were five times more likely to experience a clinically meaningful improvement in depression than those receiving traditional care alone.

PPD is one of the most common complications of childbirth, affecting one in five mothers, but only 15 per cent of mothers experiencing PPD can access evidence-based treatment due to long waitlists and trouble accessing affordable care.

“As public health nurses are frequently a first point of contact for many mothers with postpartum depression, and as this treatment is scalable and deliverable online, it has the potential to greatly improve access to effective treatment for mothers with around the world,” said the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Ryan J Van Lieshout, Canada Research Chair in the Perinatal Programming of Mental Disorders.

This study is the first to show that public health nurses with no prior psychiatric training can deliver cost-effective group psychotherapy for mothers with PPD. Six NRPH nurses received training and observed a nine-week series, before working in pairs to deliver this intervention in the community.

“The CBT program is life-changing for so many participants, and to be a part of that journey is incredibly rewarding,” said Ruth, a nurse with Niagara Region Public Health for the past 32 years. “The skills taught through the series provide moms with a toolbox of strategies that they can take away from the program and support not only their mental health and their relationship with their baby, but also skills they can use in other relationships and areas of their life.”

Although the group setting of the intervention differs from traditional one-on-one treatments, it has shown to be preferred by many and to be more cost-effective, allowing for more mothers to access treatment for their postpartum depression or anxiety.

“Many of the participants throughout the years have shared how they were hesitant or reluctant to join a group program,” said Christina, a public health nurse who has had the opportunity to lead CBT programming since its start in 2017. “By the end of the session many are surprised to realize how therapeutic a group setting was in helping them feel supported, knowing other moms feel the same way they do, and the opportunity to celebrate one another’s bravery, honesty, and achievements.”

NRPH continues to offer this nine-week intervention for expectant parents and parents with infants up to 18 months of age who are feeling depressed, down, or anxious. The series is currently being offered online due to COVID-19 restrictions. For more information about accessing the program visit the Niagara Parents Classes and Clinics page.

PPD can affect anyone. Common symptoms include feelings of anxiety, depression or feeling overwhelmed, excessive feelings of guilt, changes in appetite, and loss of interest in things that normally bring pleasure. If you have recently had a baby and are experiencing any of these symptoms you can speak with a public health nurse for support by connecting with Niagara Parents, Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at 905-684-7555 or 1-888-505-6074 ext. 7555 or by email at parents@niagararegion.ca.

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