If you've ever experienced postnatal depression, you'll be familiar with the soul sucking, energy zapping feelings, and the fear that life as you once enjoyed it will never be the same again.
But the good news for those going through it is there's a new kid on the treatment block, and it boasts a huge success rate. It's called MumMoodBooster, and Dr Christopher Holt, the project manager, says 71.4 per cent of women who took part in the trial program were no longer diagnosed as depressed at the end of it.
Dr Holt says that the trial, run by the Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI) and funded by beyondblue, included women from around Australia who experienced moderate to severe postnatal depression. The program is the first of its kind – it's a fully developed and evaluated online treatment for women, with online sessions, videos, and discussion forums for both mums involved in the program and their partners.
The program was developed to respond to several barriers for mums experiencing postnatal depression who don't seek help. Dr Holt says research has found that more than 50 per cent of mothers with postnatal depression don't seek help because they worry that they will be seen as a failure, don't know the signs of depression, are concerned about passing anti-depressant medications to the baby through breast milk, or find it too difficult to attend weekly face-to-face counselling at a clinic.
But lead PIRI researcher Professor Jeannette Milgrom said women engaged well with the program, with two thirds posting on the online community forum during the trial, adding that the results had been overwhelmingly positive.
"MumMoodBooster may change the way women with PND are treated after they are diagnosed. Women can receive treatment in the comfort of their own home, which in turn will help to relieve the burden on existing health services," she says.
Of the women who participated in existing standard routine care for PND, only 15.8 per cent had recovered from their depression at the end of the 12-week trial. In contrast, those who had used the MumMoodBooster program were more than four times as likely to no longer be depressed.
Georgie Harman, CEO of beyondblue, said this program could benefit thousands of Australian women who might be experiencing postnatal depression and who are not aware of the help available, or who are too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help from a health professional.
"We know many mums with PND are afraid people will think they are not good mothers, and we hope they will use this online program at home to help them with their mental health and their parenting," she said.
"This study shows that an online program with interactive options, supported by some telephone coaching, is a very effective way of treating PND."
'Finally a weight was lifted'
For Tania Borodach, a mum of two, the program has been a life saver. "When my second son was born, I got to about the three-month mark and stopped sleeping. I didn't sleep for a year all up. Even when I would fall asleep, I would wake up shortly after and toss and turn again."
She says she experienced constant panic, and some days even leaving the bedroom was impossible. She felt detached from her life, saying she would have two moods: one totally detached, the other flat, sad and overwhelmed.
She found the program after her GP failed to provide proper help. "I was given sleeping pills and told lack of sleep was the issue, that it's common for new mums to have problems, but this was my second child so I knew it wasn't right."
Tania then started doing her own research online, which led her to the MumMoodBooster trial in Australia.
Tania says she was assessed over the phone and, after scoring off the charts for PND, she was registered and started the program. "They have videos of women acting out the experiences of postnatal depression and it was like a weight lifted – finally someone was talking the same language as me, and I felt understood."
She says the program includes activities based on cognitive behavioural therapy methods she had to complete before a weekly phone session with a psychologist. "I could do [the exercises] all in one go, or spend five minutes here and there as I wanted. It was perfect for me, as PND made it hard for me to concentrate for long periods of time, and the bite sized sessions were very practical.
"The weekly phone call with a therapist also made me accountable – I had to do the homework or we'd have nothing to talk about, which is good when depression can make it so easy to put things off."
By the first evaluation session, four weeks into the program, Tania says her depression scores were much lower. By the end of the 12 weeks, she no longer met the criteria for depression at all.
"You have access to all the online features after you finish the program, and I continued to do them now and then to keep my skills fresh. It's been two and half years now, and I feel so much better," Tania says.
Tanya credits the program with teaching her practical ways to adjust her thinking away from negative thought patterns. "I recently came out to the kitchen and found a puddle of water on the floor. When I was in the throes of PND, that would have been enough to make me spiral into negative thought patterns about what a failure I was. Now? I took a photo, posted it to Facebook and my friends and I all had a giggle about what the shape looked like. It turned into something that gave me a laugh, instead of making me despair."
MumMoodBooster is currently seeking new mums for an ongoing treatment trial. To register or find out more, visit mummoodbooster.com or contact a coach on 03 9496 4496.