Women’s experiences of perinatal mental health: a qualitative exploration of women’s experiences of mental health during pregnancy and a review of women’s views of peer support interventions and their effectiveness
Background and Aims: Mental health difficulties during the perinatal period (pregnancy to 1 year postnatal) are commonplace and are associated with significant impacts for mothers and infants. There is an acknowledgement that more needs to be understood about perinatal mental health, particularly during pregnancy, and that service and treatment options need to be improved. Women’s lived experience of difficulties during pregnancy, particularly when experiencing moderate to severe mental health difficulties, is a little researched area. A need for wider treatment options than medication alone has been highlighted and Peer Support Interventions (PSIs) are often considered within this area. Despite this, there is yet to be a review of their effectiveness to date that also considers women’s views of such interventions. Therefore, this thesis aimed to systematically review literature focused on women’s views of PSIs and their effectiveness. In addition, it also aimed to explore the lived experience of women with moderate to severe difficulties with their mental health during pregnancy, with a focus on trying to establish any psychological needs/needs they may have. Methods: A mixed methods systematic review was conducted to meet the aims on PSI interventions. This involved searching electronic databases, quality assessment of included papers and summarising results, including a meta-synthesis for qualitative findings. The empirical project, on women’s lived experiences, utilised an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis approach to explore the lived experience of women experiencing moderate to severe mental health difficulties during pregnancy. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 women recruited via a specialist perinatal mental health service. Results Thirteen studies were included in the review. Results highlighted the heterogeneity of types of PSIs and methodologies employed to evaluate these. Most studies focused on PSIs for the postnatal period and were often aimed at depression. There was a lack of research on PSIs targeted antenatally, or for other types of mental health difficulties. There was tentative evidence for the use of telephone based PSIs in reducing depressive symptomatology postnatally, but less evidence for the use of other types of PSI, or for interventions during pregnancy. The qualitative evidence highlighted the acceptability of PSIs to women and a meta-synthesis of qualitative research identified a number of themes representing women’s views of PSIs. From the empirical project, several Superordinate themes were identified: Need for acceptance, Need for awareness, Search for explanations, What helped, Emotional intensity, Societal influences and Service provision. Within these a range of emergent themes were also found. These themes highlighted possible psychological needs and other needs during this time, as well as providing a greater understanding of women’s lived experience. Conclusions: There is a need for more research to establish effectiveness of PSIs during pregnancy and of other modes of delivery and to build on existing findings on the effectiveness of telephone based PSIs. Women viewing PSIs as highly acceptable for perinatal mental health difficulties, should cause services to consider their use, or other opportunities for sharing of peer advice/information. Themes identified from the empirical project highlight the need for greater awareness and acceptance of mental health difficulties during pregnancy, as well as the impact of societal influences on women during this time, and the role clinicians and services could play in achieving greater awareness. Small changes within services could help raise awareness levels and help women feel less isolated.