PIRI: Building Brighter Futures for Australian Families Through Research

PIRI: Building Brighter Futures for Australian Families Through Research

Australia’s Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI) has been a pioneer in perinatal mental health research since 2001. PIRI’s focus on areas like antenatal and postnatal depression, prematurity, and infant development has resulted in valuable resources for Australian families.

PIRI’s Areas of Expertise

  • Infancy: Research in this area enhances our understanding of healthy emotional and social development in babies during their crucial first years.
  • Antenatal & Postnatal Depression (PND): PIRI investigates the complexities of depression experienced during pregnancy and after childbirth.
  • Screening: PIRI develops and evaluates tools to identify potential PND early, allowing for timely intervention.
  • Prematurity: PIRI’s research explores the unique challenges faced by families with premature babies and their mental health needs.
PIRI′s program suite caters to mothers at every stage, from pregnancy to postpartum.

PIRI′s program suite caters to mothers at every stage, from pregnancy to postpartum.

PIRI Research and Findings

Beating the Blues Before Birth: This study evaluated a brief CBT treatment for maternal depression and anxiety during pregnancy. Results showed significant reductions in anxiety during pregnancy and sustained improvements in depression. Infant outcomes improved in problem-solving, self-regulation, and stress reactivity, independent of maternal postnatal mood.

MumMoodBooster – Online Treatment for PND: A large randomised controlled trial (RCT) demonstrated that MumMoodBooster (MMB) was at least as effective as face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy (FTF-CBT) in achieving remission from a diagnosed PND episode. MMB was superior to treatment as usual (TAU) and FTF-CBT in maintaining reductions in symptom severity over a 21-week follow-up. These findings replicate prior studies showing clinically significant improvements in depressive symptoms, supporting internet-delivered treatment as a viable alternative to FTF treatment. Future research should examine the generalisability of these results.

PremieStart: PremieStart aims to reduce stress in preterm infants to protect neurological development. Early results show developmental benefits at six months, with ongoing evaluations at four years indicating improvements in cognitive and behavioural outcomes for preterm children.

Beautiful Beginnings: This project focused on early intervention for preterm infants, reducing stress and resulting in significant improvements in early brain development, as evidenced by MRI scans. Enhancements in white matter microstructure and connectivity were observed.

Depression, Parenthood & Mother-Infant Interaction: This research showed that effective treatment of PND does not fully mitigate its impact on mother-infant interactions. The HUGS intervention has shown positive effects in subsequent trials, improving the quality of mother-infant interactions and supporting better infant developmental outcomes.

Effective Psychological Treatment for PND: An RCT compared cognitive therapy with other psychological interventions, showing all were superior to conventional routine care. Further studies affirmed that CBT is as effective as antidepressant medication and can be successfully delivered by non-specialists, improving access to effective treatment for PND.

Reliable and Acceptable Screening for PND: This study validated a widely used screening tool in a large representative Australian population, addressing a critical gap in research on perinatal depression screening. Findings highlighted the importance of screening acceptability, which is crucial for informed healthcare decisions and the implementation of effective screening programs.

Women’s Experience of Depression: Focus groups provided insights into the challenges women face with depression and barriers to care. A motivational interviewing program developed from this research increased help-seeking behaviour, demonstrating the importance of addressing perceived barriers to improve service engagement.

Towards Parenthood: This antenatal intervention targeted risk factors for poor postnatal adjustment, effectively reducing postnatal symptoms of depression/anxiety and parenting difficulties. The program demonstrated significant positive outcomes in both maternal mental health and parenting skills.

EvidenceBased Practice in Screening, Psychosocial Assessment, and Management: The book Identifying Perinatal Depression and Anxiety, edited by PIRI’s research directors, compiles the latest global research and practice. It emphasises the need for well-defined screening programs with essential design elements to improve mental health outcomes for new mothers.

PIRI′s MumMoodBooster programs provide a holistic approach to mental health support.

PIRI′s MumMoodBooster programs provide a holistic approach to mental health support.

Importance of Evidence-Based Research

Evidence-based research is critical in perinatal mental health for several reasons:

  • Reliability and Validity: Evidence-based practices are grounded in rigorous scientific research, ensuring that interventions are reliable and valid. This means they are proven to work and can be trusted by healthcare providers and patients alike.
  • Improved Outcomes: By using interventions that have been scientifically validated, healthcare providers can significantly improve outcomes for mothers and infants. This includes reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhancing mother-infant interactions, and supporting overall family well-being.
  • Informed Decision-Making: Evidence-based research provides a solid foundation for healthcare professionals to make informed decisions about care. This includes selecting appropriate screening tools, interventions, and support programs tailored to individual needs.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Implementing evidence-based interventions can be more cost-effective in the long run. Effective early interventions can reduce the need for more intensive and expensive treatments later on, ultimately benefiting the healthcare system and families.
  • Public Health Impact: Evidence-based approaches, such as internet-delivered treatments, can reach a broader population, overcoming barriers like stigma, accessibility, and cost. This can have a significant public health impact by providing support to more families in need.
PIRI′s commitment to comprehensive care extends to supporting health professionals.

PIRI′s commitment to comprehensive care extends to supporting health professionals.

Importance of PIRI’s Work

PIRI has conducted research in the areas of perinatal depression and prematurity since 2001. Access our key findings here.

PIRI’s evidence-based research plays a vital role in:

  • Improving outcomes for families by identifying effective treatments for PND and supporting healthy infant development.
  • Enabling early detection through reliable screening tools, ensuring families get the help they need before problems escalate.
  • Providing targeted support for specific challenges faced during pregnancy, postpartum, and with premature babies.
PIRI′s programs extend beyond mothers, offering support to fathers

PIRI′s programs extend beyond mothers, offering support to fathers

Finding Help

If you’re concerned about your mental health during pregnancy or after childbirth, the most important step is to reach out for help. PIRI’s research can offer valuable insights. Talk to your doctor or midwife about potential resources and consider reaching out to organisations like PIRI, PANDA, Gidget Foundation, or Beyond Blue for further support. If you are having suicidal thoughts or are feeling disoriented, it’s important to get help immediately. If you need immediate support, call Lifeline at 13 11 14 (24/7).

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and PIRI’s research is here to guide you towards a healthy and happy start to parenthood.