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Facebook Helps Postpartum Depression – An Oxymoron?

February 22, 2023

It has now become standard procedure to screen mothers for postpartum depression at well child visits, because the depression can adversely affect parenting. When we identify that a parent has postpartum depression, we usually refer back to the obstetrician for follow up. Is there more that could be offered, particularly in this time when mental health resources are so scarce?

This week in Pediatrics, we are early releasing an article entitled, “Social Media-based Parenting Program for Women with Postpartum Depressive Symptoms: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” by Dr. James Guevara and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin that describes an innovative parenting intervention on Facebook for mothers with mild—moderate  postpartum depression (10.1542/peds.2022-058719).

Seventy-five mothers participated in MoodGym, an online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) program. Half of the mothers were also randomized to join a secret (to protect patient privacy) Facebook group, in which they received videos, PowerPoint presentations, and written materials about responsive parenting in Facebook posts. The mothers could also post questions and have discussion within their groups.

Even though there were no differences in parenting scores, mothers who were randomized to the secret Facebook groups had more rapid declines in their depressive symptoms than those who only received the online CBT program.

What might explain the more rapid improvement in symptoms? Similar proportions of mothers in both groups also received mental health services in the community, so that does not explain it. The authors hypothesize that the parenting intervention might have increased self-efficacy, which in turn might have improved parental mood. It could also be that parents felt that they received support from their fellow group members. It should be noted that this intervention took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when in-person support and parenting groups were not available. Thus online support may have been critical.

I was intrigued and encouraged by this study. It will be interesting to see the impact of future interventions that use social media-based strategies to improve health outcomes.

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