perinatal apps

Bridging the Gap: A Review of Perinatal Apps for Maternal Depression

MARLENE MAHEU, PhD

September 6, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 Minutes
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Introduction

While numerous mobile apps have been developed to address mental health conditions, perinatal depression—a significant concern affecting up to 15-20% of pregnant women—has been largely overlooked. This blog post summarizes a systematic review led by researcher Margaret Emerson and colleagues. The review evaluates the effectiveness, privacy policies, and overall reliability of smartphone apps designed to manage perinatal depression (2023). It aims to inform mental health professionals about the current state of these apps, both in academic circles and commercial marketplaces and provides actionable recommendations. 

Recent Developments

There is a surprising dearth of dedicated mobile applications for perinatal depression. The existing apps in the area generally lack empirical validation and have inadequate privacy frameworks. This mirrors findings from previous scholarly reviews, which have continually called attention to the shortage of high-quality apps in the perinatal mental healthcare landscape (O’Connor et al., 2016).

“Perinatal” refers to the period immediately before and after birth. It encompasses the time from the 20th week of pregnancy (the beginning of the third trimester) through the first week after birth. The perinatal period is crucial for both the health of the mother and the newborn. During this time, medical professionals closely monitor the well-being of the pregnant individual and the developing fetus, ensuring a smooth transition from pregnancy to childbirth and the early postnatal period. Being aware of easily accessed, easy-to-use digital resources for these depressed women could be pivotal in their lives and those of their children.

Perinatal App Study Methodology & Findings

The study systematically searched academic databases and Android and Apple App Stores. Only six commercial apps met the criteria for inclusion, alongside 18 peer-reviewed articles. Issues related to privacy policies and paywalls were common among the commercial applications. Also lacking were academic studies, which often had limited sample sizes and variable outcomes, although rich in information. The literature search found little potential for generalizable conclusions (Torous et al., 2018).

Interestingly, there was a considerable disconnect between the apps researched in academia and those available for public download. Only five apps discussed in scholarly articles were found in the app stores, exposing a gap between academic investigation and commercial application.

Perinatal App Case Analysis: mindLAMP

Given the limitations of existing resources, the newly published Emerson study included a case analysis of the mindLAMP app. It is a valuable exemplar, illustrating how an evidence-based mobile application can effectively integrate perinatal mental healthcare strategies.

mindLAMP is a research and clinical app developed by Dr. John Torous, MD, and their team. It is used by members of the mindLAMP consortium to better understand and improve brain health.

Implications for Mental Health Professionals

This review holds several implications for mental health professionals:

  • Awareness. Professionals should be aware of the scarcity and limitations of current apps for perinatal depression.
  • Critical Evaluation. When considering recommending an app, a rigorous evaluation of its empirical backing and privacy policy is crucial.
  • Advocacy. Given the scarcity of effective options, professionals should advocate for and, if possible, participate in developing empirically validated and secure applications.

For professionals and organizations interested in using mindLAMP with their clients and patients, it may be helpful to know that MindLAMP (Lifestyle Assessment and Management Platform) is a digital mental health solution that combines cutting-edge technology with clinical expertise to enhance the provision of mental health care. Designed with a patient-centric approach, MindLAMP offers a multifaceted platform for individuals to monitor their mental well-being while enabling healthcare providers to deliver personalized, evidence-based interventions.

At its core, MindLAMP integrates a range of tools and features that contribute to its effectiveness:

  • Self-Assessment and Tracking
  • Data Visualization
  • Clinician Interface
  • Personalized Interventions
  • Remote Monitoring
  • Research Capabilities
  • Security and Privacy

For more information about MindLAMP, see the official website of the platform: MindLAMP.

Conclusions

There is an urgent need to develop more rigorously designed and evaluated smartphone apps for perinatal depression. Such apps must adhere to scientific protocols, ethical guidelines, and robust privacy policies to be reliable components of comprehensive healthcare plans.

References

O’Connor, E., Rossom, R. C., Henninger, M., Groom, H. C., & Burda, B. U. (2016). Primary care screening for and treatment of depression in pregnant and postpartum women: evidence report and systematic review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA, 315(4), 388-406.

Torous, J., Nicholas, J., Larsen, M. E., Firth, J., & Christensen, H. (2018). Clinical review of user engagement with mental health smartphone apps: evidence, theory, and improvements. Evidence-Based Mental Health, 21(3), 116-119.

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