Depression during pregnancy and after the birth of a child is highly prevalent and an important public health problem. Psychological interventions are the first-line treatment and, although a considerable number of randomized trials have been conducted, no recent comprehensive meta-analysis has evaluated treatment effects.
We used an existing database of randomized controlled trials of psychotherapies for adult depression and included studies aimed at perinatal depression. Random effects models were used in all analyses. We examined the effects of the interventions in the short and long term, and also examined secondary outcomes.
Forty-three studies with 49 comparisons and 6270 participants between an intervention and control group were included. The overall effect size was g = 0.67 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.45~0.89; numbers needed-to-be-treated = 4.39] with high heterogeneity (I2 = 80%; 95% CI 75~85). This effect size remained largely unchanged and significant in a series of sensitivity analyses, although some publication bias was found. The effects remained significant at 6–12 months follow-up. Significant effects were also found for social support, anxiety, functional limitations, parental stress and marital stress, although the number of studies for each outcome was low. All results should be considered with caution because of the high levels of heterogeneity in most analyses.
Psychological interventions are probably effective in the treatment of perinatal depression, with effects that last at least up to 6–12 months and probably also have effects on social support, anxiety, functional impairment, parental stress, and marital stress.