School of Graduate Studies, Research and Extension hosts colloquium on maternal mental health among adolescent mothers

By Caroline Githara

On Wednesday, November 25, the School of Graduate Studies in conjunction with HIAS, hosted a colloquium on maternal mental health among adolescent mothers, based on a paper titled, ‘A Blended Intervention: Digital Mental Health Game and Mentoring for Treatment of Common Perinatal Mental Disorders in Adolescent Refugee Mothers’.

The paper was developed with funding from the Gates Foundation, and it sought to blend a digital mental health game smart phone application with ongoing mentorship for young refugee mothers aged 18-25 in Nairobi.

Adolescent mothers face the dual challenges of negotiating the significant developmental tasks of adolescence and transition to adulthood, while simultaneously facing the physical and mental health challenges that motherhood entails. Effectively treating common perinatal mental health disorders (CPMDs) in adolescent mothers requires interventions that are evidence-based, scalable (e.g., do not require specialist services), accessible and address both life transitions.

To achieve this goal HIAS applied for funding from the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. HIAS developed and tested an adolescent specific intervention for CPMD which blended a digital mental health game with mentoring for refugee adolescent mothers in Nairobi. The outcomes of the pilot project were to support young refugee mothers to manage common perinatal mental health concerns during the postnatal period and increase protective factors, address challenges experienced by young mothers, address stigma attached to mental health problems, and bring mental health services closer to the young mothers.

Lucy Kiama, HIAS Country Director, noted that the application had a curriculum developed by a team which identified some of the key areas that young mothers needed support, including mentorship, health services, and psychosocial support.

“The application was piloted among 14 mothers, who spent an average of 4.7 hours on the application over the course of 6 weeks. On average, 22 games were played, with one mother playing 224 games and 9 young mothers not playing any games during the 6-week period,” she says.

The young mothers agreed that the Young Mummy Application was useful and relevant to supporting mothers with common perinatal mental health conditions. They indicated that the exercises within the App helped them to relax, they were also able to form bonds with their new babies and the community.

“I taught myself how to deal with stress, how to keep my baby safe, which foods to eat, my health and that of my baby and now I can even teach other mothers what I learnt from the App,” said a respondent from the study.

Among the study’s successes was the fact that the mothers with high risk depression and suicidal ideations were able to access counselling. This was amplified through the WhatsApp and Chat section that enabled them to share their experiences and increase protective factors. Through the articles on the application, the mothers were able to access knowledge on personal mental health, baby’s wellbeing and having positive relationships with their baby and other people.

In closing, the study noted that there was a high level of distress among youth refugee mothers that needed to be addressed, which would involve the development of strategies to effectively treat common perinatal mental health disorders.

Caroline Githara is the Hof Programs at HIAS.

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