Local NPO launches platform to help mothers struggling during Covid-19
The Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP) has launched a one-stop online resource developed in response to Covid-19 and the lack of targeted messaging for vulnerable mothers who are concerned for their children and families.
The platform, called Messages for Mothers (M4M), curates content that answers common questions like “Must I wear a mask?", "Will I get a child support grant?" or "How do I explain Covid-19 to my children?”.
M4M provides links to essential advice, information and support. Besides physical health, parenting and mental health – including some resources on domestic violence – it offers specially crafted mindfulness podcasts and helpline resources.
In creating M4M, the PMHP – based at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Alan J Flisher Centre for Public Mental Health in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health – teamed up with other organisations that work closely with and have resources and experience in supporting mothers. These are Embrace, Flourish, Grow Great and Side by Side.
“We’re actively campaigning that the materials are made available on zero-rated websites and on the National Department of Health WhatsApp line,” noted PMHP director and Associate Professor Simone Honikman.
“We plan now to move into a phase of getting the messages out on radio, either as pre-recordings that can be prepared or with live interviews with experts who speak a range of South African languages,” she added.
Many of the women they are targeting also face overcrowding, gender-based violence and food insecurity. On the M4M website, these women can find immediate help and information in three main areas - maternal and mental health, physical health, and parenting in the pandemic.
To offset the limitations of high data costs, M4M also developed shorter graphic message versions of their articles.
M4M’s work continues PMHP’s core mission which is to support the integration of quality maternal mental healthcare into mother and child initiatives in low- and middle-income settings.
“Prior to Covid-19, the prevalence of depression and anxiety in pregnant and postnatal women was about one in three. For each mental health condition separately, the rate was about one in five, but there’s a lot of co-morbidity. This is based on PMHP’s research at our service site in the Hanover Park Midwife Obstetrics Unit where we used diagnostic tools to assess for these mental health conditions,” said Prof Honikman.
“We also want to address domestic violence as there has been an enormous escalation of this since lockdown, and the negative associations with mental health and maternal health, and child physical outcomes are well documented.”
Working with other partners, Honikman is also helping to develop the messaging component of the “National Framework and Guidelines for Maternal and Neonatal Care During a Crisis: Covid-19 response” for Dr Manala Makua, the director of Maternal and Neonatal Health at the National Department of Health.