More than 300 million people suffer from episodes of depression, the World Health Organisation estimates. In Kenya, mental breakdown cases are increasing alarmingly with women and adolescents being the most affected.
There is strong evidence that pregnant women and mothers who have just given birth are at greater risk of depression. This is associated with below low birth weight of newborns as well as preterm deliveries. After giving birth, a woman is likely to suffer from prenatal depression with serious negative impacts on her child's health and her family as well.
Targeting preventive therapies against depression among pregnant women and those who have just given birth will, therefore, not only improve the mental well-being of the mothers but babies and, hence, a healthier generation.
Australia has one of the largest online-based depression courses to educate the public, especially mothers and adolescents, on coping with the condition. The Moodgym interactive programme website https://moodgym.com.au has more than a million followers and is estimated to have reduced depression levels among the target audience by over 26 per cent.
There are two main web-based training methods to eschew or attenuate depressive experiences.
The cognitive behavioural therapy entails training an individual to learn the relationship between thoughts and behaviour and moods. The trainees are then taught how to choose thoughts that lead to desirable behaviour and selectively avoid those that could be suicidal or make one moody.
The other is the use of interpersonal therapy, where one is trained on effective communication with family and work colleagues.
Web-based therapies are important because, first, there are very few trained psychiatrists and psychologists to reach all mentally ill patients. Secondly, they reduce the cost of treatment for mental illnesses, especially in Kenya and Africa, where it is prohibitive.
Thirdly, they can be personalised. Many mothers and adolescents have access to smartphones and home computers, which helps to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
The suicides by students is an indication that schools are among the best sites for web-based depression courses and therapies.
Dr P.M. Mutua, immunologist, Makueni