Key Findings from the postal survey
Two hundred and thirty women who had given birth in the study year, and were still resident in the Shire, were surveyed by postal questionnaire. A total of 147 women completed and returned this, giving a response fraction of 62%. Over half [n = 87] gave their phone number and indicated that they were interested in further contact. The surveys were sent out in April 2007 and the telephone contacts and interviews were completed by December 2007. The infant triggering the survey was at this time between 12 and 24 months old. Most women recalled being asked to complete the EPDS at least once, with 11% stating they had not been asked. Fewer than half (48%) recalled completing it twice, as was actually stipulated in the revised screening protocol.
When asked how they felt about filling out the EPDS, 65% of the women surveyed stated that they didn't mind, although only 27% ticked that they thought it could be helpful.
Twenty-nine women (20%) added comments in the space provided for this question. Many of the positive or neutral comments were directed towards screening in general, or for "other women":
I could see how it [EPDS] would pick up underlying problems.
I think it is good as some people who have PND don't realise it, as did a friend of mine.
I did fill one out with my first child and it felt good that I could tick a box and say out loud when I did have a problem.
Ten women made negative comments about being screened and these were more personal, saying they were embarrassed or "felt exposed", and included comments about the lack of privacy when screening was offered in the maternal and child health clinic:
A bit embarrassed. It reminded me of being back at school and then when she walked me through the "answers" I felt a bit exposed.
I knew that it could be helpful, although the nurse read out the questions and entered the answers which made me feel uncomfortable and unable to answer honestly.
Of the sixteen women not screened, the most common reason given was that the nurse did not ask (n = 13), while three women stated that it was because they did not attend the maternal and child health service on a regular basis.
I know the nurse personally and she quickly brushed over the topic assuming because I was working I was OK.
The nurse knows me well enough to use her clinical judgement. Always talked openly anyway. Probably felt I was OK. Maternal and child health nurse was present at all my three births.
Most women found the EPDS easy to understand, with 85% reporting that "the statements in it all make sense". Only 10% reported difficulties in understanding some parts or were not sure.
Slightly more than half of the women surveyed (55%) stated that completing the EPDS made it easier to talk to the nurse about their feelings, 31% said that it didn't, with 14% not sure. Fifty-three percent of respondents (78/147) recalled the nurse making suggestions after the EPDS had been completed. In most instances this consisted of discussion of relevant issues or provision of written material about postnatal depression. Twelve per cent reported referrals being made to specialist services, including sleep, settling or day stay programs, counselling or home visits by MCH nurses. Six percent recalled being referred to their GP. Forty-six percent of the women (36/78) found the suggestions helpful.
Any suggestions are helpful after having a baby. Just talking to someone who listens helps.
She suggested that she was just a phone call away.
She was very helpful. My husband was with me at the time and we all openly discussed my feelings and talked it all over amongst us.
Ten women [7%] indicated that suggestions made by the nurse did not help them. Some women either disagreed with the results of screening, or felt there was no need for any help:
I did not need any help. My answers had to do with uncommon feelings of worry that last week. I didn't display any symptoms of PND, therefore no need to refer me elsewhere.
Some women were disappointed that screening had not resulted in them getting help and support:
I needed something but no suggestions. I went on to a sleep clinic, but by finding out details myself.
Another was more despondent:
I felt a lot more depressed than the Edinburgh showed. Apparently crying every couple of days wasn't enough to warrant any further help. It made me feel like I was still on my own dealing with it.
Key findings from the telephone contacts
Eighty-seven women gave phone numbers for further contact. Eighty of these were reached by telephone. The respondents included primiparous and multiparous women. Twenty-six percent (21/80) said that they had been depressed during the first postnatal year with one or more of their children. Women spoke about their EPDS score as being high or low or normal, none recalled the actual score.
Forty-one of the 80 women contacted did not perceive themselves as having had significant difficulties with mood or depression. These women reiterated that they did not mind being screened and thought it could be helpful for "other" women. Thirteen women perceived themselves as having been depressed and said they had been helped by the screening program by receiving appropriate support or referral. Another 13 expressed reservations about the screening process and commented that screening had not made it easier to talk to the nurse about their feelings. Finally, 13 of the women contacted by phone had not completed the EPDS at all.
It was evident that screening was perceived by some women as a hurdle they had to surmount:
I didn't do all that well on "the test", but no follow up was carried out.
I didn't mind doing the screening test. I was relieved to find that I was "normal".
Another woman worried about "getting a high score". She reported that the nurse said to her, "you are high, but you are not quite there."
Women spoke about choosing how to answer the items on the EPDS, and whether to be "honest" or put on a more positive front.
It would be easy to misrepresent how you feel. It is a day to day affair. You could choose to share how you were feeling or keep it to yourself. Some days you might just want to weigh the baby and go.
When you go to the infant welfare you put on a positive front and talk about good things that happen. It is hard to switch to a more reflective mood.
I didn't mind filling in the EPDS but I didn't elaborate too much. I never spoke to the nurse about how I was really feeling. [her emphasis]
One woman, a farmer who was being treated for depression by her GP admitted to not completing the EPDS honestly:
I didn't find the MCHN very helpful. I didn't want to talk to her about how I was really feeling. I always took my husband with me when visiting the centre.
Most of the 13 women who said they were helped by the screening process felt that they had a good relationship with the nurse and that she was supportive:
I found the EPDS helpful. My nurse was easy to talk to. I knew I had postnatal depression because I had had it before. She gave me the EPDS and sent me to the doctor. He recommended medication and counselling.
My nurse was always helpful. She referred me to my doctor, who sent me to see a counsellor because I didn't want to go on medication. The counselling worked.
However an equal number found that the screening process did not make it easier to talk to the nurse about their feelings and most were clear that their responses on the EPDS depended in part on their relationship with the nurse:
[I] was very clear that the form was not the answer ... you could choose to share how you were feeling or keep it to yourself.
[The screening] was a bit superficial. There wasn't much talk about why it was being done or anything. It could have been better just to have a talk.
Completed the EPDS. Didn't think it helped. [I] wanted to talk in more depth with the nurse who just brushed it off. For 12 months... I really struggled.
Support was mentioned by all mothers as being important in the first postnatal year and this often came instead, from family members and friends.
If I had a problem I would talk first to a friend or my partner.
I mean I wouldn't talk to a stranger about something like that. I'd ask my sister first before any stranger.
My best support was my mother's group. If I [then] had a problem I would ask my MCHN or doctor.
Key Findings from the in-depth Interviews
Twenty women were interviewed in-depth. They ranged in age from 23 to 40, five were first time mothers and 15 had between two and five children. Ten of the women lived in small rural towns of less than 5,000 people, but accessible to services and shops, whereas seven lived in more remote areas, more sparsely populated and without access to public transport, and three lived on farms or isolated rural properties. Fourteen reported that they had suffered from depression during the first postnatal year for periods ranging from two to eleven months. The other six women did not consider themselves to have been depressed, though each reported having some "down" days. Three women had a previous history of depression prior to becoming a mother. Those women who described themselves as depressed did not see themselves as ill. They attributed their depression to psycho-social causes, parenting stress and the disturbed sleep associated with caring for an infant.
The EPDS as a "good springboard for conversation"
For some women completing the EPDS had proved to be a good springboard for discussion whether or not they had felt depressed:
I found the EPDS helpful. It enabled us to talk about things we otherwise might not have done. It was a good springboard for conversation. We went through each question and had a bit of a laugh... "Does having two hours of sleep a night count?"
Because I had had depression before I knew that something was not right. Doing the EPDS just confirmed what I needed to be told anyway.
It gave me that window of opportunity to sort of say, "Look, I have been feeling a bit down," or whatever and in my case, I kept telling my nurse how well I'd been doing but I was really quite,...I sort of prepared myself for the worst, that maybe this wouldn't be OK, but it gave me the opportunity to actually talk about it and any concerns I had. So, I probably didn't pay that much attention to the actual test itself, but it was just that conversation.
Of the women who felt that screening had not made it easier for them to talk to their nurse there was a universal view that completing the EPDS did not address their particular needs; and for those who considered themselves depressed, but were not identified as such through the screening, it did not provide the help they wanted.
I knew that it was important for me to talk about how I was feeling but I found it hard to do. I did the survey [EPDS] and the survey came up as me being mediocre. It didn't for me feel how I felt. I was withdrawing from everything I cared about at home, not enjoying myself and just not happy in myself.
Of the four women interviewed who had not been screened, three had been feeling depressed. Two had sought help from their GP and were given a diagnosis of postnatal depression and offered treatment. The other was neither identified nor helped, by either her nurse or her GP, although she saw both health care providers regularly:
They assumed that because I was at work I was fine and there was a form that I was supposed to have filled in [the EPDS]. I think I remember that she didn't have any at the time and I can just remember her saying, "Oh, you are working, you are fine."
Then when I saw the doctor he said "now, how is everything going?" as they do. I said "so, so", and I thought come on, that is the opening, ask more. But he moved on and I didn't feel like pushing it any further. I don't know why.
Stigma: "why did she give it to me?"
When women were offered the EPDS by the MCHN at one of their regular consultations some felt stigmatised, suspicious of the motives for screening, and ashamed to take up the suggestions for help:
It was useful, but you also think, "Well, why did they give it to me? They must think there is something wrong with me straight away".
She did say that it was just a survey and she probably said to me that everybody fills them out, but I didn't think that everybody fills them out as much as me, and I suppose when you're not confident in yourself, if you feel a bit down then... Oh I just thought she was making me fill these out 'cause she thought I was going to hurt my baby or I'm a bit of a nut and I just used to cry in there.
I was ashamed to go to the day stay. Like it took a long time for my mother-in-law to convince me. Everybody tells you the good things: oh this beautiful baby. I dressed it and bathed it and it looked good. But nobody tells you that it is OK not to cope and ask for help. Well that was my feeling. If you go to day stay you've failed.
Many women reported being very conscious of how the nurse might view them in response to their answers:
I can remember thinking about the questions, trying to be honest, like being aware that the questions are loaded....And trying to be honest and yes I was honest, because I remember putting something down and thinking oh will that categorise me as being someone who has got postnatal depression or whatever?
Timing and responsiveness
For some women the MCHN screening consultation had not been a suitable time or place to disclose their concerns about themselves:
The nurse was just lovely but it wasn't really something that we could discuss that much because the baby was more the focus. He was really a very, very unwell baby, very colicky. So that was the focus and she said "Look, you have scored pretty badly on this thing," She didn't say badly but I can't remember whether it was high or low and she said, "You probably should see your doctor." And I sort of went "Oh, yes." And that was at about three months and then at about four months I started getting really bad thoughts, like "Oh, there's the toaster, plugged in." and "Oh, there's a knife." and "You can stick a knife in a toaster." And I thought "Oh yeah, they're pretty abnormal thoughts" I usually have a pretty level sort of head. I thought "That's pretty bizarre." And then I started getting all the hallucinations as well, which I think was sleep deprivation as well, I said "No, I'd better go to see someone." I went and saw the doctor. He was really good.
Some noted that their mood on the day could affect their EPDS score:
I just did a lot of self-reflection if that makes sense. Um and every-day this could change, that's the thing yeah. Some days I could have filled this thing up and it would have been straight to the doctor.
Referring to the instruction on the EPDS to consider feelings over the past seven days, some women felt that a week was not enough time to give a real sense of how they were feeling. One woman suggested that a month would be better.
The EPDS as a "test"
Comments during the telephone contacts that the EPDS felt like a "test" were further elucidated in some of the in-depth interviews. For some women the EPDS was something they clearly felt they needed to "pass", either to prove they were normal, or conversely, to qualify for help.
And, um, then I think when the survey came back and said I was borderline, I thought "Hmm. OK, well all right. How bad do you have to be before you...before you are classified as bad? To get to the point where you are wanting to hurt yourself?" There's no way in hell I want to get that bad.
One woman reported a similar understanding of the process, but with a more positive outcome:
At the seven week visit I said to her "I think I am depressed." She said "Well, actually next week I was going to give it to you [the EPDS]."
And so she gave me the test, and I completed it and she said, "It is showing that you are depressed." And I had the required number of answers to say that I was just over normal. She said "Look I can refer you to your GP who can refer you to a counsellor."
For some, the screening process was useful in validating their own assessment of their needs:
Because I had had depression before I knew that something was not right. Doing the EPDS just confirmed what I needed to be told anyway.
A window of opportunity to talk
Women who found the screening process valuable most commonly reported that what was important to them was the opportunity to talk freely with the nurse and that completing the EPDS acted as a starting point to this. A positive relationship with the nurse was central to this being successful:
The health centre nurse - she has been wonderful to talk to, has been very supportive. She was the one that actually picked up on the postnatal depression, before I realised myself what was going on.