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Exploring women's experiences of identifying, negotiating and managing perinatal anxiety: a qualitative study

Oh, Soo; Chew-Graham, Carolyn; Silverwood, Victoria; Aksa Shaheen, Sirah; Walsh-House, Jacqualyn; Sumathipala, Athula; Kingstone, Tom

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Soo Oh

Sirah Aksa Shaheen

Jacqualyn Walsh-House

Athula Sumathipala


OBJECTIVES: Anxiety affects around 15% of women during the perinatal period and can adversely impact both mother and child, with potential implications for long-term health; few studies have examined women's experiences of perinatal anxiety (PNA). In the context of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence prioritising PNA, this study aimed to explore women's experiences of the identification and management of PNA and their engagement with healthcare professionals. DESIGN: Qualitative study with semi-structured interviews and applying thematic analysis. SETTING: Recruitment materials were shared widely through maternal support groups, children's centres, libraries, National Health Service (NHS) providers (primary and secondary care) operating in the West Midlands or North West of England and through social media. PARTICIPANTS: Seventeen women (aged 25-42 years) with self-reported anxiety during pregnancy and/or up to 12 months postpartum. Interviews digitally recorded and transcribed with consent. RESULTS: Three main themes and corresponding sub-themes are described around a central concept of PNA as an individualised experience: barriers to disclosing PNA; help-seeking for PNA and establishing and engaging support networks. Disclosing, help-seeking and accessing systems of support were interconnected and contextualised by individualised experiences of PNA and pervaded by stigma. CONCLUSIONS: This research provides new insights into PNA and calls for awareness to be improved to achieve parity alongside depression and avoid missed opportunities in the provision of care for women and families. Future research should seek to develop novel PNA-specific interventions aimed at prevention, management and/or combatting stigma to support more women to disclose mental health concerns and seek help early.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 30, 2020
Publication Date Dec 30, 2020
Journal BMJ Open
Publisher BMJ Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 12
Article Number e040731
Keywords anxiety disorders, maternal medicine, mental health, primary care, qualitative research
Publisher URL bmjopen-2020-040731
PMID 33380483


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