Medical school professor wins grant to study maternal mental health in Nepal

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a professor in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences a $100,000 grant last month to study maternal mental health, the school announced in a press release Tuesday.

Brandon Kohrt, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, will use the grant to study how perinatal depression affects mothers in low- and middle-income countries. He and his team will develop a tool using mobile device sensors to identify and track mothers suffering from depression in Nepal, according to the release.

The tool will then help mothers receive personalized psychological care, the release states.

“First, when the closest psychiatric services are days away, we need to explore how technology can identify mothers at risk for depression,” Kohrt said in the release. “Second, when psychological treatments are delivered by community health workers, technology can help us avoid a one size fits all approach to care and instead tailor care for the mother.”

The tool will consist of a mobile phone for the mother and a small Bluetooth device attached to the baby’s clothes, which can record location and sound. Kohrt’s team will also create sensor data models to correlate maternal depression with certain behaviors, like the length of time a mother spends with her baby and the frequency of outings, according to the foundation’s website.

The team will also establish a community advisory board comprised of mothers, family members and health professionals to test and refine the tools. The board will then develop an interface to allow mothers and health workers to access the information the tool collects and utilize it to pursue mental health treatment, the website states.

Kohrt has worked on mental health in Nepal since 1996 and has served as an adviser to the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization in the country since 2006, according to a University release last year. He has also investigated the mental health consequences for child soldiers and earthquake survivors in Nepal.

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