Home Visits Reduce Depression, Drug Use In Pregnant Teens

By McCarton Ackerman 10/14/14

Mothers who participated in home education sessions were less likely to use drugs or exhibit signs of depression.

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A new study centered on American Indian communities in the Southwest has found that home visits for pregnant teenagers significantly decreased their overall drug use and depression.

Researchers at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted the project with 322 pregnant teenagers in four American Indian communities. They all received optimized standard care, including referrals to local services and transportation to prenatal, as well as well-baby clinic visits.

Half of the participants, however, also received 63 in-home education sessions known as Family Spirit. The visits occurred weekly through the last trimester of pregnancy and then gradually tapered off until the child turned three, addressing issues such as the benefits of breastfeeding and creating sleep schedules.

The teens that entered the program had high rates of substance abuse at around 84%, but the study concluded that those in the Family Spirit program were less likely to use illegal drugs and exhibit depression or behavior problems. Their children also had higher rates of meeting emotional and behavioral milestones than those in the control group, as well as better eating and sleeping patterns. The findings were published in the latest issue of the Journal of American Psychiatry.

“For years in public health we have been working on immunizations and other medical interventions to set the course for the health of disadvantaged children, and we have turned the tide,” said the study’s lead author, Allison Barlow, M.P.H., Ph.D., associate director of the Center for American Indian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Now the burden is in multi-generational behavioral health problems, the substance abuse, depression, and domestic violence that are transferred from parents to children. This intervention can help us break that cycle of despair.”

Barlow believes the key to continuing the success of the program is boosting the population of local community health workers. With Family Spirit now eligible for federal funding after being approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as an evidence-based program, the program could ultimately create jobs and boost the workforce in some of these often-struggling communities.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.