A UCL team has been awarded £3.8 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to fund a new study in Lebanon and Kenya looking at the treatment of post-natal depression, child development, and the mother-child relationship.
With the NIHR’s Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) programme funding, the research team will evaluate the impact of group Inter-personal psychotherapy (IPT) on child developmental outcomes, maternal depression and the mother-child relationship.
Principal investigator Professor Peter Fonagy (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) said: "Babies do not understand about lockdown and post-natal depression knows no international boundaries any more than a SARS-CoV-2 virus.
"Developing robust systems of post-natal mental health care will relieve pressure on overburdened services and may teach us important lessons about how to improve UK’s organisation of perinatal care."
Postnatal depression (PND) is a serious, disabling mental health condition affecting between 18-25% of women postnatally in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Extensive evidence shows that maternal depression is consistently associated with adverse impacts on caregiving and on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.
The proposed research programme in Kenya and Lebanon will address the currently limited evidence concerning effective interventions to treat PND in LMICs and test whether a WHO-recommended psychological therapy modified to match local priorities, delivered sustainably within existing healthcare systems, can lead to improvements in key measures of early child development alongside improvements in maternal mental health.
This will be an international collaboration between the UCL Psychology and Language Sciences, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, and Bangor University, Columbia University, ABAAD and the University of Saint Joseph in Lebanon and the University of Nairobi and HealthStrat in Kenya.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of increasing investment in services for mental health. The researchers will seek to create innovations that can be sustained in a post-pandemic world and which can be used to re-build better mental health services in the community. They aim to uncover crucial knowledge that can help Kenya, Lebanon and other countries around the world establish more effective and affordable health services for women with depression and their babies.
Professor Fonagy added: "This significant collaboration of mental health professionals across three continents has the potential to revolutionize the way we use groups and a focus on interpersonal relationships to support mothers who develop depression after childbirth. It is a significant global opportunity most appropriate for mental health awareness week."
The NIHR’s Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) call provides targeted investment in mental health research in ODA-eligible countries, through supporting applied research on the development and evaluation of interventions to improve outcomes for those affected by mental health issues.
Professor Fonagy will lead the team, alongside Professor Henrietta Moore and Hannah Sender (both UCL Institute for Global Prosperity), Professor Pasco Fearon, Professor Steve Pilling and Dr Liz Allison (all UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) and Professor Jolene Skordis (UCL Institute for Global Health). Professor Fonagy, who is also Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre, has led several large scale trials of psychological therapies, including a maternal intervention trial in East Africa.