The concept of normality as a component of help seeking and adaptation in couples with experience of postnatal depression
: a grounded theory study

  • Marlis Bunyan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Postnatal depression is a significant challenge to the mental health of women of childbearing age. Partners and other family members are expected to provide support and care. This thesis extends the existing work to explore the experience of both partners in the couple relationship and to identify their related support needs. A series of joint and individual interviews with seventeen couples were analysed utilising components of grounded theory and the constant comparative method. Family systems theory informed the exploration of the relationship issues and the couples' support networks. The couples’ definition of ‘parenting normality’ informs the two core processes, which detail the couples’ help seeking and their progress towards recovery.

The partners identify similar support needs but emphasise some aspects of their experience differently. Both partners value their relationship and strive to maintain it during a challenging time. A number of considerations influence their help seeking and progress towards recovery. The couples express a need to understand the illness, the treatment options available and to receive consistent support from those around them. Social contacts, sharing the experience with others and the inclusion of the partner in the decision making process are helpful support strategies. Their expectations of themselves as parents and the stigma of mental health influence their help seeking. It is important that the individual has time to explore emotional issues with a trusted helper. Men are less able to share their feelings, often coping with significant emotional distress alone. Professionals play a significant role in supporting the woman, but are seen as less relevant to her partner.

Practitioners should identify strategies to reduce barriers to service access and explore opportunities for early interventions. A range of timely support options should be available to families, which are responsive to their needs and negotiated with all parties concerned.
Date of AwardJun 2008
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsScottish Executive, Chief Scientist Office

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