Purpose: Pregnancy and the first postnatal year can be a difficult and distressing period for women with mental health problems, particularly if they are not able to access appropriate and timely assessment and treatment. The aim of this systematic review was to synthesise qualitative evidence on experiences of care for women with (or at risk of developing) antenatal or postnatal mental health problems across a range of disorders (including non-psychotic mental disorders).
Methods: Six electronic databases were searched for papers published from 2000 to April 2014. Thirty-nine studies were identified that met the inclusion criteria. Findings were synthesised using secondary framework and thematic analysis approaches.
Results: Seven key themes were identified across mental disorder groups: an unmet need for collaborative and integrated care; stigma and fears about loss of custody; healthcare professionals unable or unwilling to address psychological needs; focus on babies over mothers; importance of non-judgmental and compassionate support; an unmet need for information; importance of service user involvement in treatment decisions.
Conclusions: Women's experience of accessing and engaging with care for mental health problems could be improved if given the opportunity to develop trusting relationships with healthcare professionals who acknowledge and reinforce the woman's role in caring for her baby in a non-judgmental and compassionate manner, and foster hope and optimism about treatment. Information for women, their families and healthcare professionals, and the provision of individualised care and treatment, are also crucial to enable full implementation of a person-centred programme of care.
Keywords: Mental health problems; Meta-synthesis; Postnatal; Pregnancy; Qualitative research; Systematic review.