Archives of Women's Mental Health

, Volume 20, Issue 6, pp 791–801 | Cite as

Improving help-seeking for postnatal depression and anxiety: a cluster randomised controlled trial of motivational interviewing

  • Charlene HoltEmail author
  • Jeannette Milgrom
  • Alan W. Gemmill
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. The EPDS: Thirty Years On


Low uptake of treatment by women with symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety is consistently reported. This study examined whether a brief motivational interviewing (MI) intervention delivered by Maternal and Child Health Nurses (MCHNs) during routine emotional health assessments improves help-seeking following childbirth. In this parallel two-group cluster randomised controlled trial, MCHNs delivered a MI intervention (‘PRIMER’, n = 20) or Routine Care (n = 20) at women’s (n = 541) postnatal consultations. The primary outcome was help-seeking over the 12 months post-birth. Other outcomes were emotional distress measured by the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, Beck Depression Inventory-Revised and Depression Anxiety Stress Scales, and barriers to help-seeking obtained by self-report via a checklist of potential barriers that was presented to women to select from if applicable. 27.4% of the sample experienced emotional distress over the 12 months post-birth. When comparing women who experienced emotional distress with those who did not, odds of seeking help were 4.0 times higher for the MI condition than Routine Care (p = .004). Of the women who sought help from a psychologist, 47.6% in the MI condition attended 6 + sessions versus 20.0% in Routine Care (numbers too small for reliable significance test). There was a non-significant trend of lower depression, anxiety and stress in the MI condition. Three risk factors for postnatal depression predicted help-seeking: antenatal anxiety (OR = 2.8, p = .002), depression history (OR = 2.5, p = .002) and self-esteem (OR = 0.7, p = .04). Common barriers to seeking help were thinking that one would or should be able to manage without help (endorsed by 11.1%). Treatment uptake for postnatal distress can be increased with MI. Training MCHNs in MI was feasible and valued. Given the devastating effects of depression, further research is needed to ascertain whether MI can improve mental health outcomes. Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12611000635965), 22 June 2011.


Motivational interviewing Postnatal depression Postnatal anxiety Cluster randomised controlled trial 



This project has been made possible with funding from Australian Rotary Health.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the Victoria State Government Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, particularly the involvement of Banyule, Whittlesea and Moonee Valley Maternal and Child Health Services in this project.

Dr. Rochelle Cairns provided assistance in developing the MI training workshop and accompanying intervention manual. Dr. Sofia Rallis and Dr. Rochelle Cairns conducted the training workshops.

We would also like to acknowledge the Parent-Infant Research Institute team and in particular, Ms. Sofia Galgut, for conducting the follow-up telephone calls.

We would like to thank Ms. Rachel Sore for her statistical advice.

We thank the women who generously gave their time to participate in this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest


This study was funded by Australian Rotary Health.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research ethics committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable standards.

Ethical approval for this study was obtained from the Austin Health Human Research Ethics Committee on 16 February, 2011 (Project no. 04180).

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Austria 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlene Holt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeannette Milgrom
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alan W. Gemmill
    • 1
  1. 1.Parent-Infant Research InstituteAustin HealthMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Melbourne School of Psychological SciencesUniversity of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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