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a mother and child image cbAugust 31 2017

Two studies have flagged up the importance of addressing potential mental health issues in women who have recently given birth.

 The first has looked at understanding the factors affecting women’s decision to seek help for perinatal distress. The second has assessed the effectiveness of aerobic exercise on postpartum depressive symptoms. The studies have been published in the British Journal of General Practice

In the first study, researchers conducted a meta-synthesis of 24 published qualitative evidence on UK women’s experiences of seeking help for perinatal distress. This identified three core themes: identifying a problem, the influence of healthcare professionals, and stigma.

“These themes build on current understanding of help-seeking by identifying the need for women to be able to frame their experience, for healthcare professionals to educate women about their roles, the need for continuity of care, and the way that being seen as a ‘bad mother’ causes women to self-silence,” said the researchers. They called for more research, particularly around ways to identify perinatal psychological distress effectively.

The second study, a systematic review and meta-analysis included 13 randomised control trials involving 1,734 eligible participants. “Exercise significantly reduced depressive symptoms when all trials were combined (standardised mean difference −0.44; 95% confidence interval = −0.75 to −0.12),” said the researchers.

“This systematic review provides support for the effectiveness of exercise in reducing postpartum depressive symptoms. Group exercise, participant-chosen exercise, and exercise with co-interventions all may be effective interventions. These results should be interpreted with caution because of substantial heterogeneity and risk of bias.”

Dr Judy Shakespeare, RCGP spokesperson for Perinatal Mental Health and a study co-author, said: “Attitudes towards mental health do seem to be improving across society – but a terrible stigma still surrounds mothers with mental health problems, not least from the women themselves. As this paper shows, many women think that if they disclose their concerns, they will be judged negatively or are frightened that social services might get involved.

“We know it takes an enormous amount of courage for women to approach their doctor with concerns, so it is vital that when they do they are taken seriously, not told that what they are feeling is ‘normal’, and that they feel safe and secure enough to disclose their feelings to healthcare professionals.

“The routine six-week postnatal check, offered to all new mothers after giving birth, is an important opportunity for GPs and new mothers to discuss issues around mental health and wellbeing – and begin to address any resulting concerns.”

Links:
S Button et al. ‘Seeking help for perinatal psychological distress: a meta-synthesis of women’s experiences’. Br J Gen Pract 28 August 2017; bjgp17X692549                  RV Pritchett et al. ‘Does aerobic exercise reduce postpartum depressive symptoms? a systematic review and meta-analysis’. Br J Gen Pract 28 August 2017; bjgp17X692525.             
http://www.rcgp.org.uk/news/2017/august/vital-women-arent-put-off-seeking-help-for-perinatal-mental-health-problems.aspx 

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