Historical perspectives: a snapshot of women admitted to psychiatric facilities with psychosis or mania after childbirth in the late Victorian and inter-war periods

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Abstract

Aim.

This study analysed historical healthcare records to investigate how women diagnosed with mania or psychosis and admitted to two mental health facilities in Australia following childbirth, were described in the late Victorian (1885–1895) and inter-war period (1925–1935).

Background.

Although historians have examined the history of mental health systems in Australia, there is no published scholarship that considers the healthcare records of these women. This was a unique opportunity to explore these documents.

Design.

An historical study examining healthcare records. The data collection occurred in 2012.

Methods.

Women admitted to mental health facilities with a diagnosis of psychosis or mania were identified in the admission registers found in the State Record Office of New South Wales and, if available, their healthcare record was transcribed verbatim. The records were imported into NVivo 10 for content analysis to determine the range and scope of information. A further textual analysis was conducted to see if the woman's diagnosis was congruent with the outcome of her admission.

Results/findings.

155 cases were identified across the two periods. Although, demographic data and the description of the women on admission were remarkably similar, 17% of women were physically, rather than mentally, ill and died soon after admission. The findings demonstrate the importance of current practices such as taking a comprehensive healthcare assessment and the use of antibiotics and sanitary measures during labour and in the postnatal period.

Conclusion.

Historical investigations of healthcare records provide legitimacy for current healthcare practices.

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