E-Health Program Improves Perinatal Depression

Heidi Splete

October 13, 2022

Patients with perinatal depression who used a specialized online tool showed improvement in symptoms, compared with controls who received routine care, based on data from 191 individuals.

Although perinatal depression affects approximately 17% of pregnant women and 13% of postpartum women, the condition is often underrecognized and undertreated, Brian Danaher, PhD, of Influents Innovations, Eugene, Ore., and colleagues wrote. Meta-analyses have shown that e-health interventions based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve depression in general and perinatal depression in particular.

An e-health program known as the MomMoodBooster has demonstrated effectiveness at reducing postpartum depression, and the researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a perinatal version.

In a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the researchers randomized 95 pregnant women and 96 postpartum women who met screening criteria for depression to routine care for perinatal depression, which included a 24/7 crisis hotline and a referral network or PDP plus a version of the MomMoodBooster with a perinatal depression component (MMB2). Participants were aged 18 and older, with no active suicidal ideation. The average age was 32 years; 84% were non-Hispanic, 67% were White, and 94% were married or in a long-term relationship. During the 12 weeks, each of six sessions became accessible online in sequence.

The primary endpoint was the change in outcomes at 12 weeks after the start of the program, with depressive symptom severity measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). Anxiety was assessed as a secondary outcome by using the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale. The minimal clinically important difference (MCID) was used to evaluate clinical significance, and was defined as a reduction in PHQ-9 of at least 5 points from baseline.

After controlling for perinatal status at baseline and assessment time, the MMB2 group had significantly greater decreases in depression severity and stress compared with the routine care group. In addition, based on MCID, significantly more women in the MMB2 group showed improvements in depression, compared with the routine care group (43% vs. 26%; odds ratio, 2.12; P = .015).

A total of 88 of the 89 women in the MMB2 group accessed the sessions, and approximately half (49%) viewed all six sessions.

Of the women who used the MMB2 program, 96% said that it was easy to use, 93% said they would recommend it, and 83% said it was helpful to them.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the lack of long-term follow-up data and inability to determine the durability of the treatment effects, the researchers noted. Another key limitation is the demographics of the study population (slightly older and a greater proportion of White individuals than the national average), which may not be representative of all perinatal women in the United States.

However, the results are consistent with findings from previous studies, including meta-analyses of CBT-based programs, the researchers wrote.

"When used in a largely self-directed approach, MMB2 could fill the gap when in-person treatment options are limited as well as for women whose circumstances (COVID) and/or concerns (stigma, costs) reduce the acceptability of in-person help," they said. Use of e-health programs such as MMB2 could increase the scope of treatment for perinatal depression.


Expanding E-Health Options May Improve Outcomes and Reduce Disparities

Perinatal and postpartum depression is one of the most common conditions affecting pregnancy, Lisette D. Tanner, MD, of Emory University, Atlanta, said in an interview. "Depression can have serious consequences for both maternal and neonatal well-being, including preterm birth, low birth weight, and poor bonding, as well as delayed emotional and cognitive development of the newborn.

"While clinicians are encouraged to screen patients during and after pregnancy for signs and symptoms of depression, once identified, the availability of effective treatment is limited. Access to mental health resources is a long-standing disparity in medicine, and therefore research investigating readily available e-health treatment strategies is critically important," said Tanner, who was not involved in the study.

In the current study, "I was surprised by the number of patients who saw a clinically significant improvement in depression scores in such a short period of time. An average of only 20 days elapsed between baseline and post-test scores and almost 43% of patients showed improvement. Mental health interventions typically take longer to demonstrate an effect, both medication and talk therapies," she said.

"The largest barrier to adoption of any e-health modality into clinical practice is often the cost of implementation and maintaining infrastructure," said Tanner. "A cost-effectiveness analysis of this intervention would be helpful to better delineate the value of such of program in comparison to more traditional treatments."

More research is needed on the effectiveness of the intervention for specific populations, such as groups with lower socioeconomic status and patients with chronic mood disorders, Tanner said. "Additionally, introducing the program in locations with limited access to mental health resources would support more widespread implementation."

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose. Tanner had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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