Perinatal mental health, ecological systems, and social support: Refugee women and facilitated playgroup

Document Type

Journal Article


Common Ground Publishing


School of Psychology and Social Science




This article was originally published as: Guilfoyle, A. , La Rosa, A. C., Botsis, A. , & Butler-O'Halloran, B. (2014). Perinatal mental health, ecological systems, and social support: Refugee women and facilitated playgroup. The International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society, 3(4), 52-66. Original article available here.


We sought to gain an understanding of refugee women’s experiences through an interpretative phenomenological methodology. Challenging the lack of research on group-based informal supports for refugee women, we examined the role of playgroup in contributing to social support, the effects of playgroup across all ecological systems, and mothers’ experiences of perinatal mental health issues (PMHI). A focus group and follow-up interviews with the women, staff, and stakeholders gave the opportunity to share their narratives. These information-rich descriptions of their experience helped us explore complex and multifaceted concepts, including PMHI and social support, to show how refugee women ascribe meanings to PMHI within a facilitated playgroup context. In applying Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (BEST), we found that the women’s microsystems were lost in re-settlement, and they experienced feelings of shame and stigma around PMHI through macrosystem influences. Playgroup became a supportive mesosystem, where the women came together through shared understanding and were able to build new microsystems. Our research will assist in advocating for playgroups and other informal support programs by examining in detail how they can provide valuable insight for other refugee women experiencing PMHI in similar circumstances.

Access Rights

Not open access