Boosting Mothers' Moods

January 12, 2016 - 7:15am
mom holding baby

A University of Iowa researcher is working with the Veterans Administration on a pilot program to help female veterans suffering from postpartum depression.

MomMoodBooster is an online intervention tool that helps mothers who live in rural areas cope with their depression.

“Women in rural areas often don’t seek out or have access to mental health care,” says Michael O’Hara, professor and Starch Faculty Fellow in the UI Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “Reaching out in particular to rural veteran women seemed to me like it was just something important to do.”

Each year, about 300,000 new mothers in the United States suffer from postpartum depression, experiencing low moods, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, insomnia, appetite disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal thoughts—and O’Hara says this estimate is low.

So far, about 40 women from across the country have taken part in MomMoodBooster with positive results. Over a six-week period, women participate in six sessions that target managing mood, increasing pleasant activities, managing negative thoughts, increasing positive thoughts, and planning for the future. Phone coaches also call to check in with the women, tracking progress, answering questions, and providing encouragement.

O’Hara says it seems possible, given the combat experience of many female veterans, that they may be more at risk for depression, though that has not been quantified.

“I was in the Navy for four-and-a-half years, and it’s not an easy life,” O’Hara says. “These are women who have served our country, and we have a way of contacting them. You put that together, and it’s sort of a winning combination.”

Treating postpartum depression is important not only for mothers, but also for the well-being of their children. A depressed parent often pays less attention to the baby’s cues, either interacting less and neglecting the child or working so hard to interact that the baby becomes overwhelmed, leading to developmental problems.

Read the full story on IowaNow.

Spotlight Type: 
Research