• health visitors;
  • maternal depression;
  • social disadvantage;
  • familial factors

The primary health care setting has been established as a key venue for identifying and working with depression. Despite this, and the high risk of depression experienced by women in the postnatal period, maternal depression has been little examined in the work of health visitors. Furthermore, although research has been undertaken on social factors related to depression in the general population, there is nothing specifically on the population of health visitor clients. This study focuses on social and demographic factors related to maternal depression amongst users of health visitor services. In a study of 701 women in rural and urban areas, maternal depression was found to be significantly associated with the absence of receipt of further or higher education, housing status, employment status, reliance on state benefit, family size, family breakdown (reconstituted families and single divorced or separated women), perceptions of support and difficulty in getting children off to sleep, particularly after the first year of the child's life. Loglinear analysis was used to identify the most parsimonious model of these relationships, and three key areas emerged: social and economic disadvantage, family size and history of family disruption. The model suggested that ‘behind’ these data may have been poor life chances, as evidenced by data on further and higher education. These data identify elements of objective life circumstances important for depression in this group. They have considerable significance for the organization of health service resources and these are discussed.