A new study published in the online journal JAMA Psychiatry supports what we’ve known for awhile about treating depression – teaching problem solving skills works! This study supports how it can prevent depression as well in mothers of children in Head Start programs.

The idea of preventing depression with problem solving skills is hardly a new approach. Over a decade ago, psychologist Martin Seligman was at the forefront of many studies of prevention programs that taught positive psychology, resiliency and problem solving skills to school aged children. This new study provides evidence that by teaching problem solving skills to mothers of preschool children, we can effect change in children at an even earlier age and, hopefully, prevent depression from arising later.

This study included 230 mothers whose children were in the Head Start program and who had an elevated risk for depression. When they were exposed to a 6-session cognitive behavioral program of problem-solving education (PSE), with a primary emphasis on behavioral activation, it was found that their depressive symptoms did not recur in a 12 month follow-up.

One of the significant contributions of this study was that the education program was delivered by non-mental health professionals.

Those who have followed my work on treating depression actively and briefly know that I have been promoting the importance of encouraging a wide array of life skills for decades. These include problem solving skills, coping skills, social skills, impulse control, frustration tolerance, foresight, and many other such key skills. Some of my relevant books on this topic include: Keys to Unlocking Depression, Breaking the Patterns of Depression, and Depression is Contagious. These last two titles are also available in Spanish: Para Romper Los Patrones De La Depresion, La Depresion Es Contagiosa.

I hope others will take this study as a starting point to develop more problem solving education programs for pregnant women and all others who are at risk for depression.

Citation: Michael Silverstein, MD, MPH1,2; Yaminette Diaz-Linhart, MSW, MPH1; Howard Cabral, PhD, MPH3; et al, (June 14, 2017). Efficacy of a Maternal Depression Prevention Strategy in Head Start A Randomized Clinical Trial JAMA Psychiatry. Published online June 14, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.1001