New Brunswick

Postpartum depression could be easy, cheap to treat, UNB study finds

Mom-to-mom mentorship more effective than clinical therapy or medication, findings suggest

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A new study out of the University of New Brunswick suggests treating postpartum depression could be easy and affordable.

Nicole Letourneau

Nicole Letourneau, a professor with the faculties of nursing and medicine at the University of Calgary, who partnered with UNB on the postpartum study, says the findings suggest peer mentorship is vastly more effective than clinical therapy or medication. (Submitted)

The study, published in a recent edition of the Journal of Advanced Nursing, found just one call per week from a peer mentor who had overcome PPD dramatically reduced depression in new mothers within about three months.

At the beginning of the experiment, all 64 New Brunswick participants were moderately depressed, yet by the midpoint only eight per cent showed symptoms of postpartum depression​, said one of the authors, Nicole Letourneau, a professor with the faculties of nursing and medicine at the University of Calgary, who partnered with UNB for the study.

By the end of the study, nearly 12 per cent were depressed, suggesting some relapse, she said.

Still, based on the findings, peer mentorship is vastly more effective than clinical therapy or medication, said Letourneau.

'Typically, success rates for medication are 25 per cent. We had a 90 per cent success rate with just talking to women on the phone.' - Nicole Letourneau, study author

"Typically, success rates for medication are 25 per cent. We had a 90 per cent success rate with just talking to women on the phone," she said.

Letourneau had hoped the New Brunswick government, which helped fund the study, would provide funding to continue the initiative, but says she was told the province couldn't afford a new program.

"I really hope it gets the attention it deserves because this is a viable solution for a lot of women. It's an easy solution, it's not stigmatizing, it's cost-effective, it's convenient," she said, stressing that postpartum depression, if left untreated, can have a lasting impact on both mothers and babies.

Deana Alexander says her postpartum depression took more than a year to overcome.

'It was an overwhelming experience I don't wish on anyone else."

Alexander served as a mentor in the UNB study, calling two mothers with PPD once a week for 12 weeks.

"I looked back on how I felt at the time that I went through that, and I can only imagine how it felt for them to finally feel like somebody was there for them."

She contends speaking with someone who has been through PPD is much better than clinical therapy or medication.

"If you haven't gone through what that person is going through in that moment, you can't get on their level. Honestly and truthfully, you can only speak from a clinical perspective. And without a program like this with mothers who feel like they are not relating, it's a loss. So to me, this is invaluable."

The three-year study received $399,867 in funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research and $99,962 from the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.

Professors from the University of Alberta and University of Toronto were also involved in the study.

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