Predictors and impacts of engagement in an app-based social support forum: Exploring maternal depression, anxiety, and self-compassion

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Simpson, Kaeley M.
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Mothers with young children experienced elevated rates of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social support is a protective factor against depression and anxiety and is positively associated with indicators of mental well-being such as self-compassion. Social support contributes to mental well-being through improving appraisals of stressful events and mitigating feelings of isolation. Engaging in online social support forum communities may be an innovative avenue for mothers to receive social support and improve their mental well-being. However, little is known about the predictors and impacts of social support forum usage in mothers. In the present study mothers with depression and/or anxiety and a child 18-36 months old (N = 69 randomized) were invited to participate in a 10-week app-based mental health and parenting program called Building Emotional Awareness and Mental Health (BEAM). BEAM consisted of psychoeducational mental health and parenting videos, online telehealth group therapy, symptom monitoring, and a social support forum. Quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to explore predictors and impacts of engaging in the BEAM program forum. Pearson bivariate correlations revealed higher levels of education, income, and having more adults in the household (≥ 2) were associated with more forum engagement throughout the BEAM program. Pre-intervention mental health symptoms (i.e., depression, anxiety, self-compassion) were not associated with forum engagement. Multiple linear regressions revealed time spent on forum and number of posts made on the forum did not significantly predict change in participant depression, anxiety, or self-compassion scores pre- to post-intervention. Finally, a thematic analysis of post-intervention open-ended questionnaire data provided a detailed understanding of participant experiences using the forum. Themes derived demonstrate ways in which participants were supported by the forum (e.g., connecting with other mothers) and participant suggestions for forum improvement. The current research provides insights into who may engage in online support forums more frequently and provides preliminary information about the impact of forum use in mothers with depression and/or anxiety. Future research in this area to further elucidate the links between social support forum usage and mental health are suggested.
social support, online forums, depression, anxiety, self-compassion, mothers