Post-natal depression (PND) is thought to affect at least 13% of new mothers, with symptoms including persistent low mood, fatigue, insomnia, feelings of guilt or hopelessness, and anxiety about the baby. While there has been increasing research into prevention and treatment of PND, there remain some challenges with drugs-based and psychological treatments. Given that psychosocial factors such as social support have been identified as predictors of PND, it was timely to investigate innovative group psychosocial interventions.
This project therefore investigated the effectiveness of creative interventions, including singing and play, as a psychosocial tool to reduce the occurrence and effects of PND symptoms. It used a randomised controlled design with 134 women to provide insight into how and why creative activities may support postnatal wellbeing. The intervention study was supplemented by a cohort study of over 2,000 women tracking the interactions between mental wellbeing, symptoms of PND, and involvement in creative activities in women during pregnancy and the first year of motherhood.
The project found that mothers with moderate-severe symptoms of PND who took part in 10-week singing classes with their baby had a significantly faster improvement in symptoms than mothers having their usual care. There was not a significant difference in recovery speed between mothers taking part in a comparison activity of ten weeks of creative play and those in usual care. While both singing and play interventions supported hedonic wellbeing, singing appeared to elicit a more functional psycho-emotional response rooted in the needs of new motherhood: to feel immersed and relaxed in an activity beyond baby care, to feel competent as a mother, and to feel bonded with baby. Additionally, the survey revealed that daily singing to babies is associated with fewer symptoms of PND and higher levels of wellbeing, self-esteem, and perceived mother-infant bond. Listening to music during pregnancy is also associated with higher levels of wellbeing and reduced symptoms of PND in the first 3 months post-birth.
The research has been reported extensively in the international press and Breathe Arts Health Research have already put the new findings into practice, running singing workshops in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust for women with postnatal depression across Lambeth and Southwark in London. It hopes the programme will reach over 200 new mothers and will specifically target women from deprived backgrounds or from typically hard-to-reach groups.
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Fancourt D & Perkins R (forthcoming), Creative interventions for symptoms of postnatal depression: a process evaluation of implementation, Arts & Health.
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Fancourt D & Perkins R (2017), Associations between singing to babies and symptoms of postnatal depression, wellbeing, self-esteem and mother-infant bond, Public Health, 145, 149-152 [DOI].