VCU School of Nursing receives grant to explore effect of yoga on depression during pregnancy

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The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a grant to the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing for a pilot study that will examine how motivational interviewing and prenatal yoga might reduce or prevent depression during and after pregnancy.

Patricia Kinser, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, received the two-year, $456,579 grant for her project “Self-Management of Chronic Depressive Symptoms in Pregnancy.”

“Nearly 20 percent of pregnant women experience depressive symptoms during pregnancy and 13 percent experience chronic, recurrent symptoms,” said Kinser, whose research focuses on stress and depression in women and their families.

Depressive symptoms may significantly threaten a pregnant woman's well-being. In February, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-appointed health panel, recommended that pregnant and post-pregnant women receive depression screenings.  

“Appropriate treatment of depressive symptoms in pregnancy is essential, yet many women find the typical treatments such as antidepressant medications and psychotherapy insufficient to address their symptoms,” Kinser said, adding that women are often concerned about the stigma and cost of drugs and the possible side effects on themselves or their babies.

“Pregnant women are in great need of safe, inexpensive self-management therapies to enhance their well-being, reduce the burden of symptoms during and after pregnancy and prevent chronic reoccurrence of depression,” Kinser said.  

Through the grant, Kinser will work with an interprofessional team to study whether the self-management intervention will help women proactively address current and prevent future depression occurrences. The team will use nurse-led motivational interviewing to engage 40 pregnant women in their self-care. The women will participate in prenatal yoga classes and at-home physical activity. The study will evaluate whether the intervention is feasible and has preliminary effects on symptoms. The team will also evaluate for changes in epigenetic patterns, which measure how the psychosocial environment can affect genetic expression.

“The intervention may be an important tool for enhancing self-awareness of symptoms and yielding sustainable health behavior changes,” Kinser said. “This may allow a woman with depressive symptoms to gain skills relevant both for managing her current symptoms and for managing recurrent depressive episodes throughout her lifetime.”

Kinser is joined on the study by co-investigators Leroy Thacker, Ph.D., associate professor, VCU School of Nursing; Tim York, Ph.D., associate professor, VCU Department of Human and Molecular Genetics; Suzanne Mazzeo, Ph.D., professor, VCU Department of Psychology, College of Humanities and Sciences; and Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D., associate professor, VCU Departments of Psychiatry, Psychology and Human and Molecular Genetics.

Kinser’s study is also designed to strengthen student engagement in research. Undergraduate and graduate students from the School of Nursing and other departments across the university are already involved, including undergraduate nursing students Christine Aubry and Emilie Fleagle. Project director Amy Rider is also contributing to the research.