How Women Use Online Support Groups And Internet Forums To Cope With Postpartum Depression

Dear readers, I’d like to share with you all one of the main chapters from my dissertation which focuses on how women turn towards the Internet, rather than their healthcare providers/hospitals/mental health clinics, in order to cope with depression, both during pregnancy and shortly after giving birth. The information I will be sharing will be quite brief and will read more like an introduction. Of course, for one of my theoretical frameworks, I’ve decided to use the ever complicated but brilliant Foucault. Because, why not, right? The dissertation is FAR from complete, by the way. I still have tons of interviews, transcriptions, and analyses to do. But it’ll be done; slowly but surely.

So, without further ado, here you go. Feedback and comments are always welcomed!

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[…] Motherhood is a major life-changing experience, in that it is associated with a plethora of physical, social and emotional changes for women. Yet, ideal notions of motherhood entails how a mother should look, act, and feel following the birth of her child. The cultural myth of “good mothering” leaves little room for emotional experiences that fall outside of motherhood being understood as a time of joy and contentment; physicians and healthcare providers alike quickly provide medical treatment to women in order to enable them to resume this socially constructed mythic role as a “good mother,” as treatment is often informed by cultural biases and preferences [1]. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that not every woman conforms to that view of the “good mother.” As a matter of fact, for many women, childbirth is a difficult process, which more or less leads to postpartum depression. Postpartum depression (PPD) falls under the umbrella term, postpartum mood disorder (PPMD), and encompasses a range of mental health conditions that range from ‘baby blues’ to the far more serious postpartum psychosis [2]. The most common type, non-psychotic postpartum depression, is a serious mental illness that usually occurs within the first three to six months after giving birth, though for some women it can take up to a full year to develop [3]. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), PPD is a major mental disorder that an estimated 9-16% of American women will suffer from after they have given birth. The incidence of PPD in Canada is almost the same, with 10% to 16% [2]. The mental illness is hence characterized by a range of depressive mood symptoms that include insomnia, loss of appetite, decreased energy, low self-esteem, cognitive difficulties, increase in stress and anxiety, and in more severe cases, hallucinations [4]. Further indication of postpartum depression include a mother feeling depressed for large portions of the day; she not only struggles to feel a strong initial bond with her baby, but she experiences feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and may have recurring thoughts of suicide and death. PPD may last for more than a year, and have a devastating psychological impact on the woman, as well as her child and family. Some of these impacts may include loss of one’s autonomy, no sense of time, lack of interest in personal appearance, lack of sexual desire, and a significant decrease in familial communication [1].

Despite the plethora of problems that women in north America face with PPD, many cases are never reported and up to 50 percent of those that are reported are usually not diagnosed properly [5]. For example, although there is information in both medical and popular sources that portray a similar characterization of the symptoms and treatments for PPD, at the same time, a clear understanding of the causes of PPD is usually lacking. As a result, for many women, then, the condition of PPD often goes undiagnosed or mistreated [5]. In other instances, some women simply choose to not discuss their suffering with PPD in public, in fear of what others may think of them; there is the stigma of shame and embarrassment that is often associated with having a mental illness [5]. Whereas other women may choose to hide their symptoms as they may feel ashamed or guilty about their feelings during what would most consider to be a happy and blissful time, which hence deepens the fear of social judgment [5]. Those women who do decide to report depressive symptoms are less likely to have adequate social support than those who do not report symptoms of PPD. As a matter of fact, many postpartum mothers may not even reveal their depressive symptoms to healthcare providers [6]. Their lack of knowledge of available health services combined with normalizing PPD symptoms, social stigma attached to mental illnesses, and the fact that they do not want to admit to having emotional difficulties further adds to the reasons why many women turn to online interventions, if available anonymously, in order to cope with and seek treatment for PPD [6].

This section aims to ground feminist Foucauldian and social constructivist understandings of power and resistance in the voices of migrant South Asian women who choose to seek help/advice for postpartum depression through online communities rather than from medical or healthcare providers. This section further aims to examine the sociological and anthropological work on women’s mental health through the use of Michel Foucault’s conception of biopower, and the ways in which it has influenced South Asian women to utilize online support groups to cope with postpartum depression anonymously, and in the privacy of their homes. Research has suggested that PPD support groups provide a space where women can feel “normal” and disclose their feelings without feeling ashamed or afraid. As Frank (1998) explains, when women tell or share stories with others, they are sharing their understandings and constructing meanings associated with their illness, while also reaching out to establish a relationship with other women with similar symptoms/experiences. This type of support can be significant in behaviour change, treatment adherence, and condition management [5]. Social support in the form of online communities for postpartum women is further identified as a key factor in the prevention of depression [2]. This section thus aims to determine how effective online support groups are at creating a supportive environment for these women. Additionally, it will be determined how and in what ways these online support groups benefit South Asian women suffering from PPD. This will be done by taking into account Foucault’s work on gender, power, and embodied resistance. In the feminist research tradition, this section of my dissertation will primarily focus on the perspectives of migrant South Asian women, drawing on their voices and experiences in online communities, and providing examples of the ways that some women seek to control their bodies, exercise agency and constitute themselves, as well as alter power/knowledge relations [7]. Most importantly, this section seeks to examine how these women’s individual practices are shaped by and may challenge powerful/normative social structures. South Asian women’s accounts of choosing to seek support and treatment for PPD in online communities were set in opposition to experiences and understandings of disempowerment and dissatisfaction with biomedical care and treatment using anti-depressive medication such as prozac. And, so, South Asian women choosing to attain treatment and support through online communities exemplifies their opposition and resistance—in both thought and action—to hegemonic biomedical power/knowledge […]

 

References:

[1] Hennig, S. (2015). The mess of motherhood: An integrated approach to understanding postpartum depression. (Final Project Essay, Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada).

[2] Evans, M., Donelle, L., & Hume-Loveland, L. (2012). Social support and online postpartum depression discussion groups: A content analysis. Patient Education and Counseling, 87(3), 405-410.

[3] Leitch, S. (2002). Postpartum Depression: A Review of the Literature. St. Thomas, Ontario: Elgin-St. Thomas Health Unit.

[4] Tobin, C., Di Napoli, P., Wood-Gauthier, M. (2015). Recognition of Risk Factors for Postpartum Depression in Refugee and Immigrant Women: Are Current Screening Practices Adequate? J Immigrant Minority Health, 2015(17), 1019-1024.

[5] Anderson, L. N. (2013). Functions Of Support Group Communication For Women With Postpartum Depression: How Support Groups Silence And Encourage Voices Of Motherhood. Journal of Community Psychology, 41(6), 709-724.

[6] Griffith, S. (2013). CWRU (Case Western Reserve University) study finds mothers with postpartum depression would welcome online professional treatment if available. Think. Retrieved on February 17, 2017, from http://blog.case.edu/think/2013/04/04/cwru_study_finds_mothers_with_postpartum _depression_would_welcome_online_professional_treatment_if_available

[7] Ross, K.W. (2013). “Because it is my body, and I own it, and I am in charge”: Power and Resistance in Biomedical and Midwifery Models of Birth.(Ph.D. dissertation, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma, United States).

 

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