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Older mothers' experiences of postnatal depression

02 January 2016
Volume 24 · Issue 1


This study uses interpretative phenomenology analysis (IPA) to explore the lived experience of postnatal depression (PND). The four participants, all aged 30 years or above at the birth of their first child, had never suffered from depression previously and were interviewed on two separate occasions about their PND experiences. Six themes emerged from the interviews: striving to be a perfect mother; feeling a failure; being sucked dry; shame of the other's gaze; feeling stuck and overwhelmed; and becoming lost. Participants sacrificed themselves in the hopeless pursuit of their own expectations of being the perfect mother and fulfilling all their child's needs. Not wanting to appear inadequate to others, and desperate to make sense of what was happening to them, they suffered in silence in a context of depleting resources, loss of their former life, wellbeing and sense of self. The findings suggest that particular themes of PND exist in older mothers' experiences, suggesting a tailored treatment approach for these women. In a situation where PND is the most common complication of childbearing in the UK, affecting between 10–15% of new mothers (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2014) and where the birth rate for women aged 30+ is growing faster than for any other age group in the UK, research that furthers understanding of the experience of PND for mothers in this age group can help guide interventions and support.

Postnatal depression (PND) is under-diagnosed worldwide, with fewer than 40% of depressed mothers seeking help (Haynes, 2007). In the UK, the most commonly used assessment tool for PND is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), a questionnaire-based quantitative tool.

Identification and treatment of PND is vital as infant development is particularly sensitive to the quality of the mother–child interaction in the first postpartum year (Logsdon et al, 2006).

Antidepressant medication is frequently used in the care and treatment of women suffering with PND (Misri et al, 2004). Other treatments include cognitive behavioural therapy (Chabrol et al, 2002), psychodynamic therapy (Cooper et al, 2003) and counselling, whether this is provided at home, in a group or by telephone (Holden et al, 1989).

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