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Medical Health Aged Care, Mental Health

CDU EXPERT: We need a rethink about depression screening of pregnant women and new mothers

Charles Darwin University 2 mins read

7 March 2024

Who: Charles Darwin University Perinatal mental health expert Dr Karen Hazell-Raine.


  • Maternal mental health
  • Child mental health
  • Australian investment in routine perinatal depression screening
  • Mental health assessment and treatment for perinatal mental health problems

Contact details: Call +61 8 8946 6529 or email to arrange an interview.

Quotes attributable to Dr Hazell-Raine:

“Perinatal (meaning the period of pregnancy and the year following birth) depression and anxiety is a leading cause of maternal death for Australian women, but we need to rethink what we are doing about it. Screening in the absence of appropriate mental health assessment and treatment is not the answer. And we need to focus on the child too.”

“Pregnancy and the first year of life is a critical period for interventions which can improve children’s relational experiences, school readiness and lifetime mental health.”

“More than 300,000 babies are born each year in Australia and there are an estimated 600,000+ occasions of perinatal depression screening for the mothers during pregnancy and the first year of parenting.”

“Current perinatal depression screening focuses on pregnant women and mothers and doesn’t necessarily help the child, parenting or lead to treatment for those at risk. An improved approach to investment should focus on early intervention to improve both maternal and child mental health.”

“Australia has invested more than $100M in perinatal depression screening since 2008 but access to mental health treatment is restricted, particularly for those more at risk such as from rural/remote areas, Indigenous, culturally diverse and young parents.”

“Recent news highlights that psychiatrists are burned out and mental health systems are depleted with mental health disorders in young Australians surging by 47%.  Australia has one of the highest antidepressants prescribing rates in the world. New reports show that increasing rates of very young children are experiencing mental health issues but not receiving professional support.”

“The investment in perinatal depression screening in Australia drastically outweighs a child-centred focus and fixing the mental health system so that appropriate assessment and treatment can be provided to those at risk.”

“When me, my family and friends participate in breast screening, prostate screening or bowel screening for example, we expect that if risk is identified, that we get the next level of assessment and quick referral for specialist treatment. That typically doesn’t happen with perinatal depression screening.”

“Perinatal depression screening is undertaken as a part of routine antenatal and postnatal care either by a health worker who isn’t a mental health professional or an app or online screening platform. If risk is identified, the health worker, online screening platform or app typically makes a suggestion about where to get help, but these suggestions either don’t exist for many women and their partners or lead to long waiting lists or services that don’t provide mental health assessment and treatment.”

“Other countries have either not implemented perinatal depression screening due to lack of supportive evidence or do so only where appropriate mental health assessment and treatment is definitely available.”

“Building on extensive clinical and Policy experience in the field, my research emphasises what can be done to improve mental health for both mothers and their children. Australia should rethink our routine perinatal depression screening and reinvest in strengthening our mental health service sector.”

Contact details:

Emily Bostock
Acting Research Communications Officer

T: +61 8 8946 6529
M: 0432 417 518

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