CBT has positive effects on mental health, financial empowerment and parenting skills, long-term study shows
Cognitive behavioural therapy has significant positive effects on a mother’s mental health, income, employment and parenting skills even seven years after the birth of the child, according to the first study of its kind.
The international research project into the impact of depression on pregnant mothers and their babies, led by Professor Sonia Bhalotra from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, could have major implications for public policy.
More than 400 million people worldwide report episodes of depression, at a global cost of around £600bn in 2010. Between 12% and 20% of women in the 35 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suffer from perinatal depression, and 20-35% in poorer countries.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help a person manage problems by changing how they think and behave. The NHS website explains that it is “based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle”.
CBT encourages people to see their problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts.
While studies have highlighted the short-term benefits of CBT, until now question marks have been raised about whether it can have long-term effects.
The study, one of the largest randomised control trials to be held in the developing world, followed women diagnosed with depression mid-pregnancy in 40 communities in rural Pakistan. Within a year, more than half of the women in a control group (58%) were still depressed, whereas only a quarter of the mothers who had been treated with CBT reported depression.
Returning to the women and their children seven years later, researchers found that the treated mothers were still significantly less likely to be depressed than the control group. The first group were also more likely to be employed and have control over household spending. There were also big improvements in their parenting style.
The study found that women who had least social support such as those who were not living with or near their mother or mother-in-law, benefited most from the therapy intervention, both in the short and long term.
“These findings on the longer-term benefits at seven years post-treatment are really exciting,” Bhalotra said. “This is an important study for the impact on mothers with depression but there are global implications for the treatment of all human beings suffering from depression. We have seen that CBT has changed how many of the treated women live their lives now – their mental health has improved, their financial situation and their empowerment over their lives, and undoubtedly the way they interact with their children.”