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Could an app help treat postnatal depression?

Could an app help treat postnatal depression?

A University of Portsmouth researcher has designed a smartphone app to act as a 'persistent buddy' for women suffering from postnatal depression, to keep them on track with treatment.

According to NHS figures, 1 in 10 women are affected by postnatal depression (PND) within a year of giving birth. Distinctive from the so called ‘baby blues’ that last no more than 2 weeks from giving birth, PND is characterised by persistent symptoms of low mood, lethargy and difficulty bonding with your baby. Dr Omobolanle Omisade, research student at the University of Portsmouth’s Faculty of Technology, identified barriers that commonly stand between new mothers and maintaining treatment.  The app, Above Postnatal Depression, has been designed to bridge this gap between need for and adherence to treatment. The cost of transportation, childcare and overwhelming responsibilities were identified as the main barriers to sufferers ability to attend scheduled appointments. The stigma associated with PND was also a significant deterrent to treatment. 

Ms Omisade said: “Often women with postnatal depression are managing a combination of medications and therapies. Despite really wanting to feel better, they have a new baby to care for, and are dealing with the symptoms of postnatal depression, which can include low mood, lack of energy and loss of interest in the world around you. It’s easy to see why keeping appointments and remembering to follow prescription advice can become a challenge.”

The app is designed to help women keep track of their progress and multiple treatment types. Features include a ‘Get Help’ button that connects the user directly to a designated person in times of urgent need. This takes account for the depleted energy levels and social isolation that are common symptoms of PND. Other features include information about PND, treatment reminders, the opportunity to add special treatment instructions and a diary feature for managing symptoms.

Currently a prototype, the app is part of a new frontier in healthcare provision, especially for mental health.  Smartphone technology is being harnessed for the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders. There are a huge number of so called ‘mental health’ apps, available to download either for free or a very small one off payment. It is no exaggeration to say that this has the power to revolutionise the treatment of mental illness. Therapy is notoriously expensive and difficult to access on the NHS. Government cuts to mental health services have contributed to a situation whereby sufferers of depression face extensive waiting lists to receive any kind of therapeutic treatment. The stigma that exists around talking freely or seeking help for mental illness means a resource that people can access in the privacy of their own homes is surely a positive thing. An app specifically designed for women suffering from PND could save lives.

You can read Omobolanle Omisade’s full research paper here.

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