U of R program providing online therapy for those with postpartum depression
By Pamela Cowan, Leader-Post
October 2, 2012

A specialized service is giving new moms with the baby blues or postpartum depression the freedom to schedule online therapy at home around their breastfeeding and child-care routines.

Nicky Pugh, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Regina, is leading the online treatment program for moms with minor or major symptoms of depression.

"We're testing the effectiveness of therapist-assisted online therapy for women struggling with maternal depression," she said. "What makes this project so unique and groundbreaking is that we are the first researchers to test online therapy for the treatment of maternal depression."

Approximately 10 per cent of women in Saskatchewan experience postpartum depression following childbirth, yet a low percentage receive treatment, Pugh said.

"We know there are a lot of barriers to in-person treatment such as transportation difficulties and childcare challenges, so what's great about the online therapy program is the women can complete the therapy from the convenience of their home at any time that works best for them and their baby," she said.

Pugh received funding for her dissertation research from the Saskatchewan-Canadian Institute of Health Research Regional Partnership Program and is conducting the study under the direction of Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos.

To participate, Saskatchewan moms must be at least 18 and have a child under the age of one. Over the course of seven weeks, women work through interactive modules based on cognitive behaviour therapy.

"Women read through the material at their convenience and complete offline activities to help apply the learned strategies into their daily life," Pugh said. "We provide all clients with the guidance of an online therapist who will check their progress through email and by phone at no cost."

Two modules in the program focus on thinking styles that might contribute to depressive symptoms, such as the tendency to overgeneralize or catastrophize.

"Many women tend to think that if they can't settle their baby, they are not good mothers," Pugh said. "We work to identify these unrealistic thoughts, challenge them and replace them with more realistic thinking."

She observed a lot of stigma is associated with maternal depression "so women may be more inclined to seek out therapy if they can do it in the comfort of their own home."

More details about the online therapy are available at www.onlinetherapyuser.ca/mdo or by calling Pugh at 585-5369.

"When they do contact us, they will undergo a brief screening interview to determine if the program is right for their needs," she said.

To determine the program's effectiveness, women are randomly placed on a seven-to -10-week wait list and then offered treatment.

Following treatment, participants are asked to complete online questionnaires to determine if their symptoms have changed and to rate the program so it can be improved for future users.

"Maternal depression isn't well recognized in Saskatchewan or some other areas in Canada," Pugh said. "It really is an important public health disorder to treat as it not only impacts the woman, but also impacts the way she interacts with her infant as well as the infant's short and long-term development."