Study: Online platforms helps destigmatize depression for teen moms

By Laura Lovett

Researchers at the University of Louisville found that a specially designed online program increased the rate of teen mothers that seek medical help for depression. The study, which was published by the Archives of Women’s Mental Health, reported a significant change in attitude, perceived control, intention to seek mental health treatment, and actually seeking depression treatment among the teens that received the intervention, compared to the control group. 

“Untreated postpartum depression dramatically impacts a mother’s relationship with her child, her functioning at work and school, health care-seeking behaviors, mothering skills, and her development as well as the development of her child,” the authors of the study wrote. “An internet-based depression intervention is an inexpensive method to increase rates of depression treatment.”

The study split the participants into two different groups. The intervention group consisted of 151 mothers and the control group was made up of 138 mothers. EIghty-nine percent of participants were African American mothers. More than half (51.7 percent) of the participants had less than a high school education, and an overwhelming majority had given birth within the last year. 

The intervention was made up of internet-based video vignettes, questions and answers, and community resources, according to the study. The platform included videos of other adolescent mothers talking about their experiences with depression, which was designed to help decrease the stigma around depression, according to the study. A question and answer section was also created to help improve stereotypes about mental health treatment and decrease the stigma of depression. 

Researchers gave participants a baseline survey before the study,  right after the study ended, and then again two weeks after the study concluded. The mothers answered questions about attitude, subjective norms, behavior control, and intention to seek depression treatment. Women that had symptoms of depression were asked if they made plans to get treated for depression. 

“Based upon theory of planned behavior, this study described the impact of an internet-based depression intervention in successfully changing attitudes, perceived control, intention to seek treatment, and actually seeking treatment in a sample of adolescent mothers,” the researchers wrote. “Contrary to expectations, living in a rural area did not impact study results. Receiving a larger dose of the intervention impacted attitude towards mental health treatment, but not the rate of actually seeking treatment.”

In addition, the researchers also looked at how the platform was received, and found that 80 percent of participants in the intervention group reported that the website was easy to use; 70 percent reported that the platform was a good place to learn about depression. Further, 71 percent said they would recommend the website to another teen mom.

There has been a rise in apps and tools that target depression in recent years. A meta study from September 2017 suggested that mental health apps can significantly reduce the symptoms among users with mild to moderate depression. 

"The majority of people in developed countries own smartphones, including younger people who are increasingly affected by depression," Joseph Firth, lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University, said in a statement in September. "Combined with the rapid technological advances in this area, these devices may ultimately be capable of providing instantly accessible and highly effective treatments for depression, reducing the societal and economic burden of this condition worldwide."