Screening model hailed by international journal

20 June 2012 | Story by Newsroom

PLoS MedicineNew ground: In a new series by the journal PLoS Medicine, the PMHP at UCT reported on its efforts at delivering mental health care to pregnant women.

A team of UCT researchers who have developed a new model for screening pregnant women for mental health disorders have recently published their flagship paper in the leading peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine.

Lead author Dr Simone Honikman and colleagues from the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) published their paper, Stepped Care for Maternal Mental Health: A case study of the perinatal mental health project in South Africa, in the Public Library of Science journal at the end of May. The edition marked the first of a new series on Global Mental Health Practice by the open-access publication.

The paper drew much attention because the PMHP is the first initiative of its kind in the country. As things stand, there is no routine screening or treatment for maternal mental health disorders in primary care settings in South Africa.

The authors say: "There is an extremely high prevalence of maternal mental disorders amongst women living in adversity. The PMHP developed an intervention to deliver mental health care to pregnant women in a collaborative, step-wise manner making use of existing resources in primary care."

Over three years, the project achieved high levels of uptake and acceptability, they indicate in the paper. From July 2008 to the end of June 2011, 90% of 6,347 women who attended the facility for primary level care were offered mental health screening. Of the 5,407 screened, 32% qualified for referral to a counsellor, and 62% (1,079 women) of these agreed to be referred to the PMHP on-site counselling service.

"Through routine screening and referral, the PMHP model demonstrates the feasibility and acceptability of a stepped care approach to provision of mental health care at the primary care level."

The PMHP is located within UCT's Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health, and operates at the UCT-linked Mowbray Maternity Hospital and several other public maternity facilities in the Peninsula region. The project is now part of the five-nation Programme for Improving Mental Health Care.

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