Peer Support May Ease Postpartum Depression


A peer support telephone program manned by volunteers and run by nurses showed promise in reducing symptoms of postpartum depression.

A small study suggests that peer phone calls may help to reduce postpartum depression in new mothers.

The study included 64 participants in a peer-support telephone system and was designed as a quasi-experimental program aimed at testing whether such a system showed any promise. The peer support was given by women who had recovered from postpartum depression and received training for the support phone calls; all were volunteers. The researchers concluded that the success of reducing depression in many of the participants was significant enough to warrant a more rigorous randomized, controlled clinical trial.

Key Points:

- Peer support telephone programs may help improve symptoms in women with moderate postpartum depression.

- Whether through a formal program or community support, it may be beneficial for women with postpartum depression to connect with other women who've struggled with the same.

The study recruited women who were all moderately depressed after giving birth. After telephone peer support began, depression rates dropped significantly, with 8.1% exhibiting symptoms halfway through the 14-week program. By the end of the program, 11% of mothers experienced persistence of depressive symptoms or relapse despite the telephone-based peer support. The finding suggests some mothers should be followed more closely and likely referred for treatment beyond peer support, the authors concluded.

“The non-judgmental support of peers appears to help overcome the barrier of stigma of mental illness,” the authors wrote, but they also suggested that nurses should take an active role in assessing maternal depression. Nurses may be best equipped for encouraging the development of peer support programs, they noted.

“Nurses should develop greater understanding of the risk factors for depression, barriers to treatment, stigma of mental illness and develop interventions to address these issues so that depressed mothers receive appropriate and acceptable care,” the study concluded. “Depressed mothers need supportive care, guidance to overcome depression, and often reassurance that they are capable mothers and recovery is possible.”

The study was conducted in Canada, with the average age of the participants being 26 years. In addition to experiencing postpartum depression, 77% of the mothers reported depressive symptoms prior to pregnancy and 57% had pregnancy complications. Among the participants, 16 were taking medication for depression since the birth of their child.

The study was published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

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