Are New Mothers Really More Depressed? Reflecting on the Specificity of the Postnatal Depression Diagnosis

By Catherine des Rivières-Pigeon, Charo Rodríguez and Gabrielle Nicole.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social and Community Studies

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During the last two decades, postnatal depression has become a widely accepted and very popular psychiatric diagnosis in both scientific and lay writings. Despite its popularity, the postnatal depression diagnosis has raised many questions and controversies, particularly around the specific character of depression during the postpartum period. In this paper, we offer an in-depth reflection on the emergence of the diagnosis of postnatal depression. First, we examine the arguments used to justify this distinctive diagnostic category. Second, we explore some driving forces that may have contributed to the legitimacy of this diagnosis: professional factors and general public discourses. We conclude with a discussion on the consequences of the specific view of postnatal depression on the health of mothers of young children.

Keywords: Postnatal Depression, Motherhood, Sociology of Diagnosis, Medicalisation

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social and Community Studies, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.29-42. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 386.076KB).

Dr. Catherine des Rivières-Pigeon

Professor, Department of Sociology, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Catherine des Rivières has been a professor of sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal since 2003. She has a PhD in public health from the Université de Montréal and post-doctoral training in epidemiology from the National Institute of scientific research (INSERM) in Paris, France. She is the author of several papers on the social determinants of health among mothers of young children. Her research, done from an interdisciplinary perspective, is aimed at understanding the link between maternity and health. She is at the head of two research teams, one studying work-family balance among mothers employed as cashiers in supermarkets, and one studying psychological distress among mothers of young children with autism.

Dr. Charo Rodríguez

Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Dr. Rodríguez is a professor at the department of family medicine at McGill University. She conducts research projects that are aimed at evaluating health programs and policies. She has published several papers in journals such as Administration and Society, BCM Family Practice, Canadian Journal of Public Health, Healthcare Policy, and Journal of Health Services Research and Policy.

Gabrielle Nicole

Ministère de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité Sociale, Quebec, Canada

Conseil Emploi Métropole, Ministère de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité Sociale, Gouvernement du Québec, Québec, Canada