Research bites

To mark Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (29 April to 5 May), this issue’s papers focus on recent research on counselling and psychotherapy with mothers

Anorexia in mothers

Anorexia in mothers This study explores the experiences of mothers in terms of seeking and receiving professional help for anorexia while raising their children. The experiences of six white heterosexual mothers were explored through interviews. Four key themes were identified: conflict between mothering and seeking help; experiences of feeling blamed, poorly treated or misunderstood by health professionals; positive experiences of seeking and receiving support; and the importance of ongoing support. These findings suggest that healthcare professionals should adopt a more holistic approach that acknowledges the lifestyle of the client, including their role as a mother, when working with mothers experiencing anorexia.  

Read more: Fitzpatrick M-C et al. Being a mother with anorexia: a phenomenological study of seeking and receiving professional support for white heterosexual women in the UK. 

Perinatal depression and stress 

This meta-analysis aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of CBT for perinatal depression, anxiety and stress in both the short term and the long term. A total of 77 articles (reporting on randomised control trials) met the criteria for inclusion in the review. The findings indicated that CBT-only and CBT plus other interventions were effective for perinatal maternal depression in the short term and long term. CBT-only was effective both short and long term for perinatal anxiety, and had short-term effcacy for perinatal stress. Additionally, a subgroup analysis revealed that CBT-only was effective across a range of modalities. The authors recommend that future research is needed to rank the efficacy of different CBT modalities for perinatal women and for identifying cost-effective approaches.

Read more: Li X et al. Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for perinatal maternal depression, anxiety and stress: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. 

Experiences and expectations of motherhood  

This paper explored mothers’ perceptions of motherhood and how it affects their wellbeing. Thirteen mothers of children aged from two to fve took part in semi-structured interviews encompassing questions focused on ideal and real motherhood. Four themes emerged: uncertainty of motherhood; mother as a juggler; the social context of motherhood; and maternal struggles. The inner conflict between the ideal image of motherhood and being unable to attain this image contributed to feelings of anxiety, stress, guilt, shame and anger. This research suggests that counsellors can be instrumental in helping mothers of young children through exploring their core values and discrepancies with the dominant maternal ideology to increase self-acceptance and reduce the influence of irrational thoughts.  

Read more: Prikhidko A, Swank JM. Motherhood experiences and expectations: a qualitative exploration of mothers of toddlers. 

In the spotlight

Dr Vanessa Pinfold is co-founder of the McPin Foundation, a UK-based mental health charity working globally to develop peer research, and patient and public involvement in research. She also co-chairs the UK Alliance of Mental Health Research Funders and is a trustee of Mental Health Research UK.

Can you tell us a bit about your research?
My work with McPin began in 2007 when I set up the charity with my husband, first giving micro-grants to promising projects that focused on mental health, and then from 2013 establishing a mental health research team. McPin has grown from six to over 20 staff in the past 10 years, and has developed teams focused on peer research, public involvement in research, science communication/impact and influence, and wellbeing support/operations. Our mission remains to transform mental health research by centring the expertise that comes from lived and living experience of mental health issues.  

What motivated you to undertake this work?
At university several people I knew lost their lives to suicide, and many of my friends struggled with their mental health, as did I. As an undergraduate I became interested in health geography, and I was fortunate to be offered a PhD place to work with  Nottingham mental health services. That was more than 30 years ago, and started my mental health services research career. Since then my interest and commitment have grown, meeting many people along the way whose struggles show how little we know and how important it is to provide better mental health support, from young to old.

What do you hope the Foundation will achieve?
I am very aware that research is often slow to change systems and practices, but it is more likely to do so when delivered with experts by experience. I hope our work can continue to showcase important issues that desperately need policy and practice changes, such as inequalities and mental health, stigma and discrimination. On a more granular level, our work currently explores topics including new support options, such as virtual reality for psychosis, supported self-help digital platforms, and applications addressing sleep and youth mental health.