The need for postnatal mental health support should focus on all conditions, not just postnatal depression, a study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology has found.
The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Sussex and City University London, interviewed 17 mothers, who had experience mental health issues, with children aged under one year. It found that the participants did not respond to the concept of postnatal depression, and felt that other forms of emotional distress were not recognised in the healthcare service.
The study’s authors commented: ‘Results show that women in this sample often did not identify with the descriptions of postnatal depression and instead described a broad range of symptoms found in various disorders including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. This non-identification left many women feeling alienated and discounted by healthcare professionals, whom women perceived as being focused on postnatal depression. Subsequently, women only experienced being assessed for or asked about postnatal depression.’
The study suggests that healthcare professional’s recognition of conditions and disorders in new mothers other than postnatal depression needs to be strengthened. Additionally, the awareness of multiple types of distress needs to be raised for women experiencing distress that is not necessarily depression, and for healthcare professionals, to enable them to support women at this time. The authors also suggest that different approaches to assessment of postnatal mental health should be piloted to improve awareness and recognition.
The authors said that ‘incorporating a holistic approach focusing on the birth, the mother and her relationships into recent initiatives such as the Healthy Child Programme could be timely and beneficial’ could achieve the increase in recognition highlighted in the study.