Seeking help for perinatal psychological distress: a meta-synthesis of women's experiences

Br J Gen Pract. 2017 Oct;67(663):e692-e699. doi: 10.3399/bjgp17X692549. Epub 2017 Aug 28.


Background: Women may not seek help for perinatal psychological distress, despite regular contact with primary care services. Barriers include ignorance of symptoms, inability to disclose distress, others' attitudes, and cultural expectations. Much of the evidence has been obtained from North American populations and may not, therefore, extrapolate to the UK.

Aim: To understand the factors affecting women's decision to seek help for perinatal distress.

Design and setting: Meta-synthesis of the available published qualitative evidence on UK women's experiences of seeking help for perinatal distress.

Method: Systematic searches were conducted in accordance with PRISMA guidelines. Databases searched were PubMed, Scopus, PsycINFO, PsycARTICLES, CINAHL, and Academic Search Complete. Searches of grey literature and references were also conducted. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they reported qualitative data on UK women's experiences of perinatal distress and contact with healthcare professionals. The synthesis was conducted using meta-ethnography.

Results: In all, 24 studies were eligible for inclusion. Metasynthesis identified three main 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.

Conclusion: Perinatal care provision needs to allow for continuity of care and for staff training that facilitates awareness of factors that influence women's help seeking. Further research is required, particularly in relation to effective means of identifying perinatal psychological distress.

Keywords: help-seeking behaviour; perinatal care; postnatal depression; psychological distress; seeking help, stigma.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Continuity of Patient Care / standards
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Help-Seeking Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Perinatal Care* / standards
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnant Women / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Truth Disclosure