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Supporting the mental wellbeing of new parents

Wangaratta new mums receive world-first online mental health check to detect perinatal depression and anxiety.

A world-first online screening program is supporting the mental health of new and expectant mums across Victoria’s north east, thanks to a new partnership between Northeast Health Wangaratta and the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), Australia’s peak body for reducing the impacts of perinatal anxiety and depression.

COPE has developed the iCOPE digital application to identify mums at risk and facilitate faster and more effective mental health screening in the perinatal period (pregnancy and year following birth). The app enables COVID-safe perinatal mental health screening to be undertaken across all clinical settings, from in-person to remote screening via the patient’s mobile phone. The new service is now being used at Northeast Health Wangaratta.

Founder and Executive Director of COPE and perinatal mental health specialist Dr. Nicole Highet said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further increased the incidence and severity of perinatal depression and anxiety, with a huge increase in calls to helplines and support services. At the same time, many people have become more reluctant to attend medical appointments in person due to COVID concerns. Now, more than ever, our health services need to be using this world-leading technology to implement regular, faster and more efficient perinatal mental health screening to identify those at risk and those experiencing symptoms. The sooner symptoms are detected, the faster the treatment can begin, which is why it’s so important to spot the signs early. Every new and expectant parent deserves the same opportunity to receive the mental wellbeing support they need, when they need it.

“iCOPE will change the way perinatal mental health screening is conducted across the country and ensure all mums-to-be have the opportunity to undertake regular mental health screening, in line with the National Perinatal Mental Health Guideline. The ability to complete the survey at home via the patient’s mobile phone means iCOPE provides a COVID-proof solution to the screening process, whilst ensuring that mental health can still be assessed and monitored at a time when mental health distress has increased,” said Dr. Highet.

Northeast Health Wangaratta’s Chief Nursing & Midwifery Officer, Bernadette Hammond said: “Perinatal anxiety and depression is a serious issue facing our community. With over 700 births at our hospital each year, the iCOPE screening tool is a fantastic platform to begin the conversation around mental health and will make a real difference for our community, allowing us to provide improved mental health support to more new mums and mums-to-be than ever before. Northeast Health Wangaratta is very pleased we can now provide regular perinatal mental health checks using this world-first tool, and offer this as an essential part of our maternal healthcare services.”

“The iCOPE screening program is conducted via a text message to the patient’s mobile phone at home before their health consultation, saving time and increasing privacy, which many women have told us is really important when they’re answering some of the more sensitive questions in the screening survey,” Ms Hammond said.

More than 100,000 Australian parents are impacted by perinatal (pre and post-natal) anxiety and depression each year. Nearly three quarters (74%) of affected women don’t seek help until they reach crisis point. One in ten women experience depression during pregnancy, increasing to one six in the year after their baby is born. One in five mums suffer perinatal anxiety. A recent international review also found that among women with perinatal mental health conditions, 20% will experience suicidal thoughts or undertake acts of self-harm.

“With suicide being one of the leading causes of maternal death in Australia, screening during pregnancy and the year after birth is critical. The iCOPE digital health check speeds up and facilitates this process,” Dr. Highet said.

iCOPE is available in 12 languages – English, Arabic, Cantonese, Chin Hakka, Dari, Dinka, Mandarin, Persian/Farsi, Punjabi, Tamil, Turkish and Vietnamese, with another 20 languages in development. This allows patients from culturally diverse backgrounds to undertake the screen and receive their personal report explaining the results in their preferred language, which is vital for the 1 in 4 Australians who speak a language other than English at home.

The iCOPE patient report includes access to the e-COPE Directory of local mental healthcare providers with specialist expertise in perinatal emotional health, ensuring that parents who are doing it tough can get the professional support they need, where and when they need it.

COPE is leading the free delivery of the iCOPE screening program to all public hospitals and maternal and child health clinics across the country as part of the Commonwealth Government’s National Perinatal Mental Health Check initiative. Visit for more information.

Parents and health professionals seeking information about emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after birth can visit Parents needing counselling support should call the free PANDA National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline on 1300 726 306 (Monday to Friday 9am to 7.30pm AEST / AEDT).