York researchers to help Rwandan women cope with maternal mental health issues

Michaela Hynie

York University researchers will help Rwandan women deal with maternal mental health issues through community-based intervention, thanks to a recent $269,653 Grand Challenges Canada seed grant.

“The well-being of the entire community influences and is influenced by maternal mental health. We would like to establish that if basic social support is provided, the onset and impact of maternal depression on women, their children and the community can be reduced,” says Professor Michaela Hynie in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.

Michaela Hynie
Michaela Hynie

The project, A Community-Based Intervention for Maternal Mental Health in Rwanda, is co-led by Hynie and Benoite Umubyeyi of the school of nursing in the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Rwanda. Other team members include researchers at the York Institute for Health Research, the LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research, York’s Centre for Refugee Studies, the University of Rwanda, the University of Manitoba and Western University.

“Our work involves educating community health workers, student nurses and midwives to be more aware of mental health issues, especially in the maternal mental health area,” says Hynie. “A significantly large number of Rwandan women face depression and post-traumatic stress disorder since the country’s 1994 genocide.”

The findings of a recent study conducted by Providence M. Umuziga, a Rwandan graduate student at the University of Western Cape, South Africa, revealed that up to 39 per cent of pregnant women and up to 59 per cent of women who were within one year of giving birth in Rwanda had been clinically depressed. Hynie points out that the rate is much higher than the average post-partum depression rate in women across Africa, which is between 18 and 20 per cent.

According to Hynie, such funding helps researchers like herself, Umubyeyi and Umuziga to network globally while at the same time providing community-based services. “This is both an exciting research opportunity to test a sustainable model of mental health support and a means to apply current knowledge for the benefit of people in need.”

Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and focuses on solving critical health challenges in low- and middle-income countries with an emphasis on women’s and children’s health, and global mental health.