Perinatal distress and depression in Malawi: an exploratory qualitative study of stressors, supports and symptoms

Robert C Stewart, Eric Umar, Selena Gleadow-Ware, Francis Creed, Katie Bristow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Quantitative studies have demonstrated that depression and anxiety in the perinatal period are common amongst women in low- and middle-income countries and are associated with a range of psychosocial and health-related stressors. In this exploratory qualitative study conducted in southern Malawi, we investigated the thoughts and emotions experienced by women in pregnancy and the postnatal period, their expectations of support from husband and others, problems and difficulties faced and the impact of these on psychological wellbeing. We conducted 11 focus group discussions with a total of 98 parous women. A thematic analysis approach was used. Three major themes were identified: pregnancy as a time of uncertainty, the husband (and others) as support and stressor, and the impact of stressors on mental health. Pregnancy was seen as bringing uncertainty about the survival and wellbeing of both mother and unborn child. Poverty, lack of support, HIV, witchcraft and child illness were identified as causes of worry in the perinatal period. Husbands were expected to provide emotional, financial and practical support, with wider family and friends having a lesser role. Infidelity, abuse and abandonment were seen as key stressors in the perinatal period. Exposure to stressors was understood to lead to altered mental states, the symptoms of which are consistent with the concept of common perinatal mental disorder. This study confirms and expands on evidence from quantitative studies and provides formative data for the development of a psychosocial intervention for common perinatal mental disorder in Malawi.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)177-185
Number of pages9
JournalArchives of women's mental health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Adult
  • Anxiety/etiology
  • Depression/diagnosis
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Malawi
  • Mental Health
  • Mothers/psychology
  • Parturition/psychology
  • Poverty/psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications/psychology
  • Pregnant Women/psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Support
  • Spouses/psychology
  • Stress, Psychological/psychology


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