Those of us active in the PPD community have long hailed the benefit of peer to peer support when it comes to helping mothers combat postpartum depression and anxiety. Now a new study has been published which strengthens the claim that moms helping moms makes a difference.
The anecdotal study, “Quasi-experimental evaluation of a telephone-based peer support intervention for maternal depression” was conducted by nurses in New Brunswick, Canada and results were published this month in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. Participants received an average of 14 calls (364 minutes of phone time in total) from recovered mothers who underwent training to act as peer supporters. The researchers found that depression decreased by nearly half over the course of the study.
This study is interesting to me because the Internet is what I credit for my recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety after Joshua was born in 2009. We all knew I had a greater chance of depression, but for nearly a year I took my meds and did little else to cope. I found Twitter and #PPDChat and Postpartum Progress and suddenly I’d found my “tribe.” My climb out of darkness began and soon I was “back in the world.”
We were led by those who had survived and gradually we became survivors ourselves. Warrior moms.
Many of the women I found who helped me so much were in the trenches with me. Some of my dearest friends were fighting the same battle I was, and our friendships were born of shared experience in combat so to speak. We were fighting for our lives and our families and our children.
In this study, moms were aided by survivors, but, at least so far as we are aware, had no interactions with one another. And still the results were positive.
The researchers found “that some mothers need only one supportive call” to see improvement “likely due to reassurance they have someone to call who understands.”
When I think back to my early postpartum days with Joshua, I remember people bringing food and stopping by to coo over this new baby in my life. I remember people telling me I would “bounce back” and to “enjoy these moments.” But I don’t remember many people asking me how I was but not with that tone that says “no, really, how are you doing?”
That’s not to say that those in my life in the early days weren’t concerned, but many of them weren’t PPD survivors. And that’s really the crux of this study.
Contact with others, particularly with those who’ve “been there, done that” is critical for new moms with a predisposition to depression and anxiety. The simple act of a weekly phone call to check in helped new mothers feel less alone, less judged, and more supported, and as a result, lowered rates of postpartum depression and anxiety to a rate below the rate of the general population.
Just KNOWING someone was out there who understood made a difference. It also helped break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, and those of us working to improve the lives of mothers know the roadblock that stigma creates.
If you’re a survivor, someone who has made it through to the other side, I’d like to challenge you to pick up the phone when someone you know brings home a baby.
Reach out. Give the new moms in your life a call, regularly, and ask how they’re doing. Check in. Then check in again.
While the results of this study are small, not conclusive, and largely anecdotal, they are promising. Even though the study does not reveal what sort of training the peer counselors underwent, there’s enough evidence to suggest that peer to peer support, being an active listener and a non-judgmental presence, makes a difference and improves lives.
, , , , & (2015) Quasi-experimental evaluation of a telephone-based peer support intervention for maternal depression. Journal of Advanced Nursing 00(0), 000–000. doi: 10.1111/jan.12622