Perinatal depression, a form of depression that affects women around childbirth, is commonly interwoven with feelings of loneliness. A comprehensive meta-synthesis of 27 qualitative studies shed light on eight meta-themes encapsulating women’s experiences with this isolating condition. Even though loneliness was not a direct focus in the majority of these studies, its recurrent emergence in women’s narratives underscores its critical connection to perinatal depression.
The perception of stigma associated with their depression often led women to self-isolate, fostering feelings of loneliness. This isolation, compounded by internal self-criticism and the fear of being labeled a ‘bad mother,’ frequently resulted in feelings of inauthenticity and alienation during interactions with peers.
Women reported experiencing both social and emotional loneliness, feeling disconnected from their family, babies, and their identities before pregnancy. Crucial to combating these feelings were regular, trusted interactions with healthcare professionals, peer support from women with similar experiences, and unbiased emotional and practical support from their families.
The study found that women from disadvantaged or marginalized communities bore a double burden, as pre-existing social inequalities and isolation exacerbated their experiences of perinatal depression and loneliness.
These findings offer robust groundwork for developing theories on loneliness’s role in perinatal depression. They provide insights crucial for shaping future psychological and social interventions aimed at mitigating the stigma women face during perinatal depression. Ultimately, they highlight the need for personalized and culturally sensitive support systems to reduce the risk and impact of both loneliness and depression among these women.