A study in Portugal has found that women experiencing perinatal distress expressed a stronger intention to seek support from their partner than from professionals. More problematically, women with higher levels of distress were not likely to say they were going to seek professional support but they were less likely to say that they would seek help from their male partner. However, the more the women intended to seek support from their partner, the more likely they were to express an intention to get professional help also, reporting that their partner was encouraging of this.
The researchers, Dr Ana Fonseca and Professor Maria Cristina Canavarro at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, interviewed 231 women, assessing their mental health and asking about their intentions to seek informal and formal help. Other research has shown that expressed intentions are a good predictor of what women actually do.
Where higher levels of distress are present, there is more chance that the couple relationship is poor, which could explain a greater reluctance on the part of more distressed women to seek help from their partners. A poorer relationship may also compromise the encouragement that a woman might get from her partner to seek professional help.
Increasing women’s help-seeking when experiencing mental health problems is a universal priority in maternal healthcare. The study shows the important role of the partner in encouraging such help seeking. Partners were willing to provide informal support to the woman and were also more likely to encourage her to seek professional help, if needed.
The authors conclude that campaigns aiming to improve help-seeking on the part of mentally distressed women in the perinatal period should include women’s significant others, particularly partners.
Fonseca A & Canavarro MC (2017), Women’s intentions of informal and formal help-seeking for mental health problems during the perinatal period: the role of perceived encouragement from the partner, Midwifery 50
Photo: mcgarrett88. Creative Commons.