In a systematic review and meta-analysis, Kelly Clarke and colleagues examine the effect of psychosocial interventions delivered by non–mental health specialists for perinatal common mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Perinatal common mental disorders (PCMDs) are a major cause of disability among women. Psychosocial interventions are one approach to reduce the burden of PCMDs. Working with care providers who are not mental health specialists, in the community or in antenatal health care facilities, can expand access to these interventions in low-resource settings. We assessed effects of such interventions compared to usual perinatal care, as well as effects of interventions based on intervention type, delivery method, and timing.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression. We searched databases including Embase and the Global Health Library (up to 7 July 2013) for randomized and non-randomized trials of psychosocial interventions delivered by non-specialist mental health care providers in community settings and antenatal health care facilities in low- and middle-income countries. We pooled outcomes from ten trials for 18,738 participants. Interventions led to an overall reduction in PCMDs compared to usual care when using continuous data for PCMD symptomatology (effect size [ES] −0.34; 95% CI −0.53, −0.16) and binary categorizations for presence or absence of PCMDs (odds ratio 0.59; 95% CI 0.26, 0.92). We found a significantly larger ES for psychological interventions (three studies; ES −0.46; 95% CI −0.58, −0.33) than for health promotion interventions (seven studies; ES −0.15; 95% CI −0.27, −0.02). Both individual (five studies; ES −0.18; 95% CI −0.34, −0.01) and group (three studies; ES −0.48; 95% CI −0.85, −0.11) interventions were effective compared to usual care, though delivery method was not associated with ES (meta-regression β coefficient −0.11; 95% CI −0.36, 0.14). Combined group and individual interventions (based on two studies) had no benefit compared to usual care, nor did interventions restricted to pregnancy (three studies). Intervention timing was not associated with ES (β 0.16; 95% CI −0.16, 0.49). The small number of trials and heterogeneity of interventions limit our findings.
Psychosocial interventions delivered by non-specialists are beneficial for PCMDs, especially psychological interventions. Research is needed on interventions in low-income countries, treatment versus preventive approaches, and cost-effectiveness.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Perinatal common mental health disorders are among the most common health problems in pregnancy and the postpartum period. In low- and middle-income countries, about 16% of women during pregnancy and about 20% of women in the postpartum period will suffer from a perinatal common mental health disorder. These disorders, including depression and anxiety, are a major cause of disability in women and have been linked to young children under their care being underweight and stunted.
Why Was This Study Done?
While research shows that both pharmacological (e.g., antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications) and non-pharmacological (e.g., psychotherapy, education, or health promotion) interventions are effective for preventing and treating perinatal common mental disorders, most of this research took place in high-income countries. These findings may not be applicable in low-resource settings, where there is limited access to mental health care providers such as psychiatrists and psychologists, and to medications. Thus, non-pharmacological interventions delivered by providers who are not mental health specialists may be important as ways to treat perinatal common mental health disorders in these types of settings. In this study the researchers systematically reviewed research estimating the effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions for perinatal common mental disorders that were delivered by providers who were not mental health specialists (including health workers, lay persons, and doctors or midwives) in low- and middle-income countries. The researchers also used meta-analysis and meta-regression—statistical methods that are used to combine the results from multiple studies—to estimate the relative effects of these interventions on mental health symptoms.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers searched multiple databases using key search terms to identify randomized and non-randomized clinical trials. Using specific criteria, the researchers retrieved and assessed 37 full papers, of which 11 met the criteria for their systematic review. Seven of these studies were from upper middle-income countries (China, South Africa, Columbia, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba, and Brazil), and four trials were from the lower middle-income countries of Pakistan and India, but there were no trials from low-income countries. The researchers assessed the quality of the selected studies, and one study was excluded from meta-analysis because of poor quality.
Combining results from the ten remaining studies, the researchers found that compared to usual perinatal care (which in most cases included no mental health care), interventions delivered by a providers who were not mental health specialists were associated with an overall reduction in mental health symptoms and the likelihood of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. The researchers then performed additional analyses to assess relative effects by intervention type, timing, and delivery mode. They observed that both psychological interventions, such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, and health promotion interventions that were less focused on mental health led to significant improvement in mental health symptoms, but psychological interventions were associated with greater effects than health promotion interventions. Interventions delivered both during pregnancy and postnatally were associated with significant benefits when compared to usual care; however, when interventions were delivered during pregnancy only, the benefits were not significantly greater than usual care. When investigating mode of delivery, the researchers observed that both group and individual interventions were associated with improvements in symptoms.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that non-pharmacological interventions delivered by providers who are not mental health specialists could be useful for reducing symptoms of perinatal mental health disorders in middle-income countries. However, these findings should be interpreted with caution given that they are based on a small number of studies with a large amount of variation in the study designs, settings, timing, personnel, duration, and whether the intervention was delivered to a group, individually, or both. Furthermore, when the researchers excluded studies of the lowest quality, the observed benefits of these interventions were smaller, indicating that this analysis may overestimate the true effect of interventions. Nevertheless, the findings do provide support for the use of non-pharmacological interventions, delivered by non-specialists, for perinatal mental health disorders. Further studies should be undertaken in low-income countries.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001541
The World Health Organization provides information about perinatal mental health disorders
The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists has information for professionals and patients about perinatal mental health disorders