Historical Timeline

Key EventsDateNotes
French psychiatrist, Louis Victor Marcé, publishes first treatise entirely devoted to puerperal mental illness 1858 In 'Treatise on Insanity in Pregnant, Postpartum, and Lactating Women' (1858) Marcé provides extensive clinical descriptions of syndromes, with 79 case examples, and summarises etiological theories and treatments characteristic of his era and place. This work was based on cases that he personally evaluated and on other reported cases, all drawn from broad social and economic backgrounds.
World War II 1939-45 Widely regarded to have provided a 'natural experiment' for exploring the effects of separation of children from their parents.
National Health Service (NHS) established July 1948 Inherited (from county councils and boroughs) a system of over 100 asylums, or 'mental hospitals', with an average population of over 1,000 patients in each.
The World Health Organisation publishes 'Maternal Care and Mental Health', a report on the mental health of homeless children in post-war Europe 1951 Report written by John Bowlby, a pioneer in the field of research on development and nature of mother-child attachment.
James Robertson makes the film 'A Two-Year-old Goes to Hospital' 1952 Robertson made his debut film in order to demonstrate to professional audiences the truth of what he said happened to children separated from their parents in hospital.
Current system of confidential enquiries started, just four years after the inception of the NHS 1952 Before this, maternal deaths were reported to the Ministry of Health on an ad hoc basis.
First report of Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths (CEMD) 1954 This CEMD covered 1952 to 1954, capturing 77% of maternal deaths during that period.
G. Douglas describes the advantages of having the babies involved in the psychotherapy of women suffering from perinatal mental illness 1956 Appears to have been the first British author to write about this.
Baker et al. compare the results of treating mothers accompanied by their infants of under one year in a special unit with those from a group of unaccompanied mothers 1961 Through these studies, Baker et al. demonstrated a quicker recovery rate and improved quality of recovery, as well as superior mother-child relationships.
Association of Postnatal Illness founded 1979 In 1979, when Clare Delpech was suffering from postnatal depression, she read a book by Professor Merton Sandler about mental illness in pregnancy and she contacted him. Professor Sandler encouraged Clare to set up a self-help group for women suffering from postnatal depression with many safety features in place as the women who contacted the organisation may be unwell and vulnerable.
Marcé Society formed at an international conference 1980 The principal aim of the Society is to promote, facilitate and communicate about research into all aspects of the mental health of women, their infants and partners around the time of childbirth.
CESDI (the Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy) takes place 1992
The America Psychiatric Association adds depression with a 'postpartum onset' - what is more commonly refer to as postnatal depression - to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) 1994 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is widely considered to the 'bible' of psychiatric symptoms and diagnoses.
'Action on Puerperal Psychosis Corresponding Panel' set up 1996 Established initially by Professor Ian Brockington and Jackie Benjamin.
Deaths of Dr Daksha Emson, aged 34, and her daughter 27 October 2000 Daksha Emson

Dr Emson's husband, David, subsequently became a prolific campaigner for perinatal mental health services. An official inquiry into their deaths followed in October 2003.

Inset, picture of Dr Emson with daughter Freya

Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths (CEMD) 2001 Produces its report Why Mothers Die (2001).
The Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health (CEMACH) established April 2003 It replaces CESDI (the Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy) and CEMD (the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths), resulting in a truly perinatal focus, but its remit is now wider and includes all childhood deaths.
Inquiry into the deaths of Daksha and Freya Emson 2003 The Inquiry report is produced in October 2003.
Royal College of Psychiatrists makes commitment to promote perinatal mental health 2004 Quality Network for Perinatal Mental Health Services launched by Royal College of Psychiatrists as a result of this commitment.
Action on Postpartum Psychosis established (previously known as 'Action on Puerperal Psychosis Corresponding Panel' 2009 Run jointly by Cardiff and Birmingham universities.
East London NHS Foundation Trust opens a new, expanded, state of the art, inpatient psychiatric mother and baby unit in the City and Hackney Centre for Mental Health 11 January 2010 East London NHS Foundation Trust


Louis-Victor Marcé, MD, of Paris compiled an extensive monograph published in 1858 that surveyed knowledge of psychiatric disorders of women during pregnancy and after childbirth. This work has largely been ignored for 150 years.

U.S. National Library of Medicine

As far back as 400 B.C., Hippocrates was writing about women suffering from mental illness after giving birth. Yet 2,400 years later, we are only just beginning to understand and properly diagnose postpartum depression and the other perinatal mood disorders.

Diana Lynn Barnes, Psy.D. and Leight G. Balber

Occasional lowness and tendency to cry you must expect. You of all people will be inclined to this... for it is what every lady suffers with more or less and what I during my first two confinements suffered dreadfully with.

Queen Victoria, in a letter to one of her daughters who had just given birth

Postnatal depression has been defined throughout history as a psychiatric illness, an aberration that other, more unfortunate women suffer from rather than a condition that all new mothers are vulnerable to.

Kate Figes, Countering the myth


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