Support for male partners of women with postnatal mental health problems: A qualitative investigation

  • Beth Ruffell

Student thesis: Doctor of Clinical Psychology


This thesis explored the experiences and support needs of male partners of women with postnatal mental health problems using qualitative methodologies. The thesis consists of three papers: 1) a systematic literature review, 2) an empirical study and 3) a critical reflection of the research process. The systematic review (paper 1) is a qualitative meta-synthesis of the experiences of men whose partner had postnatal mental health problems, and the impact on men’s emotional wellbeing, relationships and support needs. Twenty studies from six countries including the views of 277 men were included and analysed using the thematic synthesis approach. Five main themes, containing 19 subthemes were derived from the analysis: 1) Being a father, 2) Being a partner, 3) Experiencing negative emotions, 4) The ways in which men cope, and 5) Where support is needed. The results suggested that participants’ emotional wellbeing, and their roles as a partner and a father are affected by maternal postnatal mental health problems, and their coping can be both hindered and enhanced by the support they receive. In light of these findings recommendations were made for increased awareness of mens’ support needs and improvements in the delivery of perinatal mental health support. The empirical study (paper 2) reports a qualitative exploration of the support preferences of male partners of women admitted to specialist mother and baby units (MBUs) relating to the content, delivery and timing of support. Ten men were interviewed and data were analysed using thematic analysis. Five main themes, with 15 corresponding subthemes were identified: 1) A smoother journey to and from the MBU, 2) Feeling included, 3) Uncertainty about “what is going on”, 4) Barriers to support and 5) Facilitators of support. Men described practical, emotional and social support they would have valued, and suggested how this could be delivered. The findings were considered in relation to the existing literature to make recommendations for improvements in the delivery of MBU support. The critical reflection (paper 3) provides a description and appraisal of the research processes, including discussions pertaining to the methodological approached taken. This paper also includes details on the entire body of work, including supplementary projects upon which this research was built, and the impact of the work as a whole.  
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAnja Wittkowski (Supervisor) & Debbie Smith (Supervisor)


  • qualitative
  • postnatal mental health
  • perinatal mental health
  • facilitators
  • support
  • father
  • spouse
  • men
  • barriers

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