Perinatal Mental Health Supports in Rural, Regional and Remote Australia

Perinatal Mental Health Supports in Rural, Regional and Remote Australia

Parenthood is a time of transition requiring both mothers and fathers to adapt to new roles, demands and responsibilities. Parents need to continue to make changes to their life to accommodate their own changing needs, those of their baby and partner. This constant demand for adaptation can be draining on energy and resources and leave both mother and father exhausted and, in some cases, anxious or depressed.

Mental health in rural, regional and remote areas

For people living in remote and rural Australia, the challenges of parenthood may be compounded by social isolation, extended wait list, lack of availability of mental health services and professionals, as well as the often-vast distances they may need to travel to access mental health services.

Although Australians living in remote and rural areas may be impacted by mental health challenges at the same rate as those living in more urbanised centres, they can experience elevated levels of stress and several unique barriers to receiving care. These include concerns about stigma, a reluctance to seek help, cultural barriers, availability of service, and high costs associated with accessing services.

Each year, 1 in 5 Australian women suffer from perinatal anxiety and depression. Up to 50% of these women are never identified and only 10% of women actively receive treatment. 1 in 10 new or expectant Aussie fathers also experience depression after the birth of a child. With impacted service access, remote and rural health services are less able to intervene in response to signs of known perinatal risk factors.

Given these very real challenges, it has never been more important for expecting and new parents in remote and rural communities to care for themselves and their families.

Delivering services to meet people where they are

The Parent-Infant Research Institute (PIRI) is acutely aware of the many challenges Australians living in remote and rural areas face. In response to the urgent need to better support rural families, and driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, PIRI has expanded the reach of its suite of evaluated perinatal mental health and wellbeing programs by going digital to make them available to all parents by meeting them where they are.

Supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of women.

Online mental health support is now readily available for all Aussie women through MumSpace; a suite of free and effective online intervention and treatment programs, designed to rapidly connect rural women with the level of support they need, from advice and support in the transition to parenthood, to effective online treatment programs for perinatal depression and anxiety.

MumSpace is also a great resource for healthcare professionals with access to an online clinician portal to better support women accessing MumMoodBooster during the perinatal period.

MumMoodBooster and Mum2BMoodBooster are engaging online programs designed to help women reduce their symptoms of perinatal depression. MumMoodBooster programs include six free personalised online treatment sessions that are based on psychological treatment and are designed to complement face-to-face cognitive-behavioural treatment in the comfort of your home.

MumMoodBooster also includes an online resource for Health Professionals supporting women with postnatal depression that provides easy referral and monitoring of symptoms. Developed with GP’s, for health professionals, the customised clinician portal allows direct referral of patients to MumMoodBooster, where progress can be monitored.

Information, strategies, tools, tips and programs specifically for dads.

Through ongoing consultation with Australian dads PIRI has also developed DadSpace, a website dedicated to supporting fathers regardless of where they live. DadSpace, provides information, strategies, tips, resources, and advice specifically for dads.

PIRI is also developing an online program called DadBooster that might be helpful for men feeling overwhelmed with the arrival of a new baby. This cognitive-behavioural therapy treatment program is similar to the therapy delivered in traditional face-to-face psychology sessions. The advantage of online treatment is that it allows men to work through their own challenges, discretely and in their own time.

Preparing new parents for the transition to parenthood.

Towards Parenthood is a self-help online interactive program providing support for the emotional, social and psychological challenges commonly encountered by soon-to-be mothers and fathers, as they make the transition into parenthood. Text, humor and thought provoking exercises prepare the reader for the journey to parenthood. Each Chapter contains illustrations and reflective activities to help parents strengthen their relationship and juggle the enormous and unexpected changes that come with a baby.

Towards Parenthood explores expectations of parenthood and provides great tips to enhance coping and problem-solving skills, addressing your own particular issues. The book focuses on the impact a baby may have on the couple relationship and ways to improve communication and reduce conflict. Strategies to enhance to enhance self-esteem and assertive communication are included. Information about the needs and capacities of the newborn help prepare you for what lies ahead, including understanding a baby’s behavioral cues, which is helpful for bonding with the baby.

Overcoming barriers

Regardless of where people live, timely and accessible mental health care is vital if we are to improve mental health and reduce suicide rates for people in the bush. There is an urgent need for early intervention to reduce the immediate and long-term impact on not only women but on their partners, children, and families.

Online mental health supports can complement traditional services and help overcome many of the barriers to receiving care for all Australians, regardless of where they live.