Postpartum depression help-seeking barriers and maternal treatment preferences: a qualitative systematic review

Birth. 2006 Dec;33(4):323-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-536X.2006.00130.x.


Background: Despite the well-documented risk factors and health consequences of postpartum depression, it often remains undetected and untreated. No study has comprehensively examined postpartum depression help-seeking barriers, and very few studies have specifically examined the acceptability of postpartum depression treatment approaches. The objective of this study was to examine systematically the literature to identify postpartum depression help-seeking barriers and maternal treatment preferences.

Methods: Medline, CINAHL, and EMBASE databases were searched using specific key words, and published peer-reviewed articles from 1966 to 2005 were scanned for inclusion criteria.

Results: Of the 40 articles included in this qualitative systematic review, most studies focused on women's experiences of postpartum depression where help seeking emerged as a theme. A common help-seeking barrier was women's inability to disclose their feelings, which was often reinforced by family members and health professionals' reluctance to respond to the mothers' emotional and practical needs. The lack of knowledge about postpartum depression or the acceptance of myths was a significant help-seeking barrier and rendered mothers unable to recognize the symptoms of depression. Significant health service barriers were identified. Women preferred to have "talking therapies" with someone who was nonjudgmental rather than receive pharmacological interventions.

Conclusions: These results suggest that women did not proactively seek help, and the barriers involved both maternal and health professional factors. Common themes related to specific treatment preferences emerged from women of diverse cultural backgrounds. The clinical implications outlined in this review will assist health professionals in addressing these barriers and in developing preventive and treatment interventions that are in accord with maternal preferences.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Depression, Postpartum / psychology*
  • Depression, Postpartum / therapy*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Health Services*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Self Disclosure
  • Severity of Illness Index