Mental health app offers Hope for pregnant women in Alberta

Dawn KingstonThink about the most common complications in pregnancy, and chances are high blood pressure and high glucose come to mind. However, some of the key offenders have slipped past primary care providers and gone largely untreated. They are prenatal anxiety and depression, and they affect one in four pregnant women in Alberta.

Dawn Kingston is no stranger to this statistic. She started researching prenatal mental health seven years ago, armed with one WCHRI grant and two questions: Why aren’t physicians screening for prenatal mental health? And why aren’t women talking about it? Now, as the Lois Hole Hospital for Women Cross Provincial Chair in Perinatal Mental Health, Kingston has not only answered these questions, she and her team have come up with a method that addresses them head on.

Enter: The Hope Digital Platform—a comprehensive online system providing mental health screening, referral and treatment options for pregnant women in Alberta.

Made possible through Kingston’s $1 million Cross-Provincial Chair funding, the platform uses a questionnaire to screen women through each trimester of pregnancy as well as three times postpartum. A carefully developed algorithm then determines the woman’s level of need, and suggests options for self-management—like one of the app’s three online courses—or geolocates her to a nearby mental health service provider.

The app also empowers physicians to get involved in the follow-up, feeding back important information about the woman’s screening and recommendations for treatment.

“Its biggest advantage is its accessibility,” Kingston notes. “It gives women a place to start independently—which three out of four women told us they wanted—and can spare the more intense resources for women with more complex needs.”

Kingston and her team recently finished their signature five-year study, comparing the emotional health of women utilizing the Hope Digital Platform in addition to their regular prenatal care to those receiving only prenatal care. In a cohort of 1700 women, they found the app reduces prenatal anxiety and depression, reduces postpartum depression and improves infant outcomes. It's also opened the door for conversation between pregnant women and health care providers.

On May 25, the SHOPPERS LOVE.YOU. Run for Women will raise funds for the Lois Hole Hospital for Women Cross-Provincial Chair in Perinatal Mental Health. Donations will directly support further development of the platform, which Kingston anticipates will be widely accessible to women across the province in the next few years.

The Hope Digital Platform gives primary care providers the foundation to start asking, and women the encouragement to start talking. In other words, it emboldens both to face pregnancy’s most common complication with the right tools, an empowered mindset and most importantly, hope.

Dawn Kingston’s Chair position is funded by supporters of the Lois Hole Hospital for Women through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Lois Hole Hospital for Women

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