Lifting the mask on postnatal depression

Monday, 27 June 2005

Postnatal depression is being made harder to diagnosis because suffering mothers wear a "mask" to hide their true condition, according to new research at the University of Adelaide.

Ms Victoria Williamson interviewed mothers and met with health professionals about postnatal depression for her PhD with the University of Adelaide's Department of Clinical Nursing.

She found that the reality of motherhood is much different from the media-driven image of the modern "super-mum", with as many as one in five mothers suffering from postnatal depression.

Many sufferers frequently tried to hide their depression behind the serene and ever-smiling mask of a supposedly "perfect" mother, which delayed diagnosis, intervention and treatment.

"The mask is worn because of cultural ideologies and media-created images concerning the need to appear perfect in the role of mother, and the cultural stigma attached to postnatal depression or any kind of mental illness in our society," she says.

"While normal motherhood does have its wonderful moments, women are given the impression that they always have to be this serene and smiling goddess no matter how tired and stressed they are, but that's just not reality."

And in turn, the job of health professionals to successfully diagnose and treat the illness is made more difficult by sufferers hiding their symptoms, Ms Williamson says.

"Sensitive and aware health professionals whose intuition tells them that something is not quite right with a new mother who otherwise 'presents well', need to ask careful questions to see if they are being confronted with a mask," she says.

"Health professionals need not be afraid to screen women for postnatal depression and to remind clients that it is not a shameful condition and help is available for it.

"The mask usually comes off with diagnosis and health professionals can often pick up on the discrepancies between a woman's body language or red eyes from crying and what she is telling them."

Education and raising awareness of the illness are critical if the illness is to be prevented and the mask dissolved.

"Make sure it is spoken about in ante-natal classes, and school students should also be taught that it's okay for mum to be worn out," she says.


Contact Details

Ms Victoria Williamson
Research Associate
Department of Clinical Nursing
The University of Adelaide
Business: (08) 8222 4928
Mobile: 0413 211 722

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762