NIH funds new project to test effectiveness of mobile phone app to decrease maternal depression

Georgia State University has received a $3.1 million grant to test the effectiveness of combining two programs in a mobile phone application to decrease maternal depression and build parenting skills that promote infant social communication and emotional competencies.

Dr. Kathleen Baggett, associate professor of health promotion and behavior at the Mark Chaffin Center for Healthy Development in the School of Public Health, is the principal investigator of the five-year, multi-site grant. The project, titled "Reducing Maternal Depression and Promoting Infant Social-Emotional Health and Development," is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Baggett notes that the first year after giving birth is a crucial time in the lives of mothers and babies. It is a window of opportunity to create a foundation for babies' well-being and learning that will last a lifetime. For many mothers, it is also a time when depression spikes. Untreated depression is a costly cause of disability for both generations.

Traditionally, programs designed to address maternal depression and to build parenting skills that promote healthy infant development have operated separately. Baggett's project will test a new mobile app with remote coaching that combines Baby-Net, a program she helped develop, and Mom-Net. Both programs have been proven effective by research.

The merged Mom and Baby Net mobile app will be tested with 180 low-income mothers with depression and their babies in metro Atlanta.

The mobile phone app is narrated and combines videos and interactive games and quizzes to teach new skills. Mothers will also create weekly videos with their baby to show themselves and their coach what they have learned in each session. Videos will then be viewed and discussed in weekly video calls between mothers and coaches. Participants will be issued smart phones, allowing researchers to gather detailed, accurate data on how mothers use the program, effects of the program on their knowledge, mood and parenting behavior, and effects on infant social-emotional outcomes.

Baggett said remote interventions have the potential to reach larger numbers of mothers than programs that require transportation, child care, or home visits during the work day. That's because most people have cell phones that provide access to intervention when it's needed.

"As we find interventions that work, what we want to do is to make them much more accessible to families that could benefit from them," Baggett said. "The goal is to find ways that we can put programs that work into the hands of parents to strengthen both maternal and child well-being from the outset."

Research has shown that helping children avoid trauma in their early years will benefit them and society over the long run by preventing chronic health problems that are much more expensive and difficult to treat as people get older.

"We know that the economic return for early intervention is absolutely unparalleled," Baggett said.

She pointed to SafeCare, another program at the Mark Chaffin Center for Healthy Development, as an example. A recent study conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that SafeCare provides a benefit of $20 for every dollar spent in life time cost. SafeCare is one of the few programs for reducing child abuse and neglect that has been scientifically proven to be effective.

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