Hanna Moore

The Commonwealth Government of Australia commissioned the Expert Working Group (EWG) in July this year to review and update the Australian perinatal mental health guideline. This update includes the recommendation that every woman be screened for mental health issues during pregnancy and after birth as a part of routine perinatal care.

“As well as screening and psychosocial assessment, the Guideline provides guidance on care for women with depressive and anxiety disorders, severe mental illnesses (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis) and borderline personality disorder,” Executive Director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) Dr Nicole Highet said.

Since October this year, the guideline have allowed depression screening and psychosocial assessment to be made through Medicare for private obstetricians and general practitioners.

For many women, their struggles with perinatal and postnatal mental health are often underestimated, with many suffering from more severe cases such as schizophrenia and postnatal psychosis unable to access care facilities that accommodate both mother and child, leading to a separation during a crucial time in development.

St John of God Burwood Hospital is one of few services in NSW that offer this kind of mental health care in the perinatal period. The Antenatal Risk Questionnaire (ANRQ) was also developed for inclusion in the guideline by hospital researchers, fronted by Professor Marie-Paule Austin.

“Screening a woman’s emotional wellbeing during this time is particularly important because about 10 per cent of Australian women will develop a depressive or anxiety disorder in pregnancy and the first year after birth,’ says Professor Austin

“Often affecting their intimate relationship, parenting confidence and bonding with their baby.”

The Mother and Baby Unit at St John of God Burwood provides specifically for this type of care and has shown to be effective in making the transition to parenthood a better process.

The program includes a combination of group therapies or programs, as well as key skills and support with feeding and sleeping. Partners are also encouraged to visit and stay overnight during the treatment process.

The Commonwealth Government’s commitment to fund these screenings through Medicare will allow for many more women to receive treatment and early intervention, and allow for further research into improving this area in the future.

“It is even more rewarding to know that our years of research will benefit hundreds of thousands of women each year who will not only have their risks identified but be able to get early intervention so they can enjoy their pregnancy and newborn baby,” says Professor Austin.