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Nature, severity and correlates of psychological distress in women admitted to a private mother–baby unit


Dr Jane Fisher, Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria 3010, Australia. Fax: +61 3 9347 9824; email:


Objective: To characterize psychological distress of women admitted with their infants to a private hospital mother–baby unit.

Methods: A cross-sectional self-report survey including standardized psychometric questionnaires of consecutive admissions to Masada Private Hospital Mother–Baby Unit, Melbourne between 1 June and 30 November 1997. Scores on the Profile of Mood States, Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, Intimate Bonds Measure, Parental Bonding Instrument, Social Support Questionnaire, Vulnerable Personality Scale self-report instruments and responses to a structured self-report questionnaire. Of the women admitted, 109 out of 146 participated in the survey.

Results: Clinically significant fatigue was almost universal in this cohort. Psychological distress clustered into three distinct groups: (i) probable depression; (ii) fatigue and distress; and (iii) fatigue only. It may be more accurate to conceptualise postpartum psychological distress either as a continuum, or as a wide range of distinct states, rather than as a dichotomous condition in which individuals are categorized as being or not being cases. In this cohort, the severity of distress was associated most consistently with the quality of a woman’s relationship with her partner and with infants who were difficult to settle.

Conclusions: It appears that some cases of psychological distress in women following childbirth may be inaccurately conceptualised as depression. Clinically significant fatigue and moderate distress are distinguishable from depression, and warrant specifically tailored assessment strategies and treatments. Following the birth of a baby, the partner of a mother has a strong influence on her emotional health and should be included in any assessment and intervention.