From November 1, Australian women will be able to access free mental health assessments during and shortly after pregnancy.
In a statement issued to Mamamia, a Department of Health spokesperson confirmed that the Government has agreed to changes to Medicare item numbers that will allow women to claim the service once during their third trimester and once at their six week postnatal check-up.
“These changes will enable women to be screened for perinatal anxiety and depression, and improve early detection and intervention, improving mental health outcomes for patients,” the spokesperson said.
With one in 10 Australian women experiencing depression during pregnancy and one in seven experiencing postnatal depression, the medical community and mental health advocates have welcomed the Government’s news.
Speaking to Mamamia, President of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Michael Gannon, noted that women are more likely to experience their first episode of mental ill-health during pregnancy than at any other time in their lives, and thus early detection and intervention is crucial.
“It won’t surprise you that there’s a strong link between postnatal depression and anxiety and depression unrelated to pregnancy,” Dr Gannon said.
“Not only is it a time of great risk, it represents a critical time to identify problems and intervene before they get bigger, whatever form that takes – whether it’s the involvement of support groups, a counsellor, a psychologist, or prescription of medication or, in a small number of cases, the direct care of a psychiatrist.”
Midwife Cath talks us through postnatal depression. (Post continues below.)
The Government’s decision comes on the back of recommendations made by the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review Taskforce and follows research released earlier this month by the University of Queensland that suggested anxiety should be treated as part of routine obstetric care.
“Many women think that some level of anxiety is to be expected during pregnancy, but our data shows that it may not be and [that] women should be encouraged to obtain help from antenatal care providers to help with anxiety throughout their pregnancy,” lead author Professor Vicki Clifton said.
The research identified anxiety symptoms as an independent risk factor in pregnancy.
“Children of mothers with high levels of anxiety during pregnancy are at risk of displaying impaired foetal growth patterns, particularly in males. Elevated anxiety symptoms during pregnancy, together with depressive symptoms and stress, predict long term behavioural and emotional problems in the offspring that can be detected as late as adolescence and adulthood,” Prof Clifton said.
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CEO of beyondblue, Georgie Harman, told Mamamia the organisation would welcome any initiative that helped support the mental health of new mums, especially those aimed at early intervention.
“Perinatal anxiety and depression do not discriminate, they are common and treatable and the earlier treatment is sought the better outcome for the individual, the infant and the family unit,” Ms Harman said.
“Routine screening is the first step in identifying those at risk.”