Almost 1 in 5 women will experience a mental health condition during pregnancy or in the year after a birth. Among women with perinatal mental health conditions, 20% will experience suicidal thoughts or undertake acts of self-harm. Ignoring mental health not only risks women’s overall health and wellbeing, but also impacts infants’ physical and emotional development. The importance of screening, diagnosis and management of perinatal mental health conditions has been highlighted by the World Health Organisation in 2022.
Research also shows that the experiences and relationships we have in the earliest years of our lives, including before birth, impact on our brain’s development. Stress and adversity experienced during pregnancy can have a negative impact on babies’ physical and mental health in the womb and as they grow up. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
We know now that a whole range of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and other mental health problems are more common in pregnancy than in the postnatal period.
Associate Professor Karen Raine – CDU Faculty of Health
CDU is addressing this problem in the Northern Territory
More than 300,000 babies are born each year in Australia and perinatal mental health screening occurs both during pregnancy and the postpartum period providing potentially 600,000+ screening opportunities each year. Perinatal mental health screening is implemented throughout Australia without adequate investment in assessment (diagnosis) and management support services. If screening can become more accurate to identify and manage maternal mental health conditions, and identify mother-infant relationships at risk, opportunities for positive child development and family functioning can be improved. More accurate perinatal mental health screening will also enable prevention and targeted early intervention to reduce rates of mother-infant separation while improving both maternal and infant mental health and wellbeing outcomes.
The CDU Darwin based project – Antenatal detection of vulnerable mother-infant relationships – is focusing on improving perinatal mental health diagnosis and management support services in the Northern Territory (NT), beginning in early pregnancy to optimise outcomes for parents, their babies, and families.
Your donation will enable this important research to positively and invaluably change the life of Territory mothers and their babies. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift to this important appeal.
Professor Dominic Upton
Pro-Vice Chancellor Faculty of Health
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