Songs from Home
Addressing postnatal depression and loneliness through online songwriting
Songs from Home brought the benefits of group music making online to address loneliness, social isolation, and postnatal depression in new mothers.
Poor social connections, including loneliness, are a risk factor for maternal mental illness. This is important as suicide is the leading cause of mortality in the first year after women give birth. Indeed, in the UK up to one in eight women will experience postnatal depression (PND), a debilitating illness for mothers with repercussions for fathers, mother-baby bond, and infants’ social-emotional development. Low or lacking social support is a risk factor for PND, and women with PND often describe feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
While there are treatments available for PND, there is low adherence to antidepressant medication and unacceptably long waiting lists for psychological therapies. Moreover, there are few treatments aimed at preventing or reducing loneliness specifically among this group, particularly for women that – for financial, social, practical, or health barriers including COVID-19 – are unable to attend in-person treatments. Nonetheless, previous research conducted in the CPS (read about the Music and Motherhood study) has shown that music interventions can support social connections and mother-baby bond as well as reducing symptoms of PND. Building on this, Songs from Home developed and tested an online music intervention based on songwriting, with the aim of reducing loneliness and enhancing social connections through musical interactions in order to reduce symptoms of PND. Songwriting has been used in a variety of clinical and online settings, and is particularly appropriate in this context because it allows people to participate in a variety of musical, creative, and social ways.
The project was built upon a methodology of co-creation, encompassing four overlapping components all of which have lived experience at the core: DISCOVERY, with women, of their needs and challenges; DEFINITION of a specific approach to the online songwriting intervention that meets those needs; DEVELOPMENT of that intervention; and DELIVERY of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) that evaluated its efficacy. Songs from Home incorporated these components over three phases informed by lived experience perspectives, culminating in a two-armed RCT with a non-intervention wait-list control group. The RCT tested the impact of the newly developed intervention on a primary outcome measure of loneliness and secondary outcome measures of social connectedness and PND, with embedded qualitative descriptions of mothers’ experiences.
The project consulted with mothers around the UK and lived experience experts to design and deliver a six-week programme of online songwriting to 89 women who had babies aged nine months or younger. All the women who took part reported experiencing some loneliness and symptoms of postnatal depression (PND). It was found that, compared to the control group, the songwriting group had significantly lower scores after the intervention for both loneliness and postnatal depression, and higher scores in social connectedness. Women in the songwriting group saw a relative decrease in loneliness scores of 38% pre to post intervention, and a reduction of a relative 32% in PND scores.
The project team comprised researchers from the CPS, including Rosie Perkins who led the Music and Motherhood study, as well as Sunita Sharma, an NHS Consultant who specialises in obstetrics and gynaecology and provided crucial guidance and mental health support to the project. The project was also a collaboration with Happity, the UK’s biggest platform dedicated exclusively to baby and toddler groups and classes. It helps soon-to-be, new, and seasoned parents access thousands of online and in-person classes across the country, allowing them to gain knowledge and join and build communities to support their mental wellbeing. Happity Co-founder Emily Tredget provided a direct link between the researchers and new mothers experiencing these mental health struggles from across the country, as well as bringing Happity’s extensive experience in fostering online classes and communities to developing a music-based approach that is as effective and inclusive as possible.