Telehealth support for perinatal mental health challenges

  • Cartoon of Dr at his desk calling pregnant woman standing up.

New research showing the impact of perinatal mental health challenges for rural families highlights the need for increased access to telehealth options.

A Monash University study published in the Australian Journal of Rural Health suggests women experiencing depression during the perinatal period may be more likely to experience parental stress due to their limited access to mental health services.

Regional, rural and remote families need access to timely, effective and evidence-based support services for perinatal mental ill health and parenting stress. Access to appropriate mental healthcare support can be life-changing – sometimes life-saving – for expecting and new parents, and their families.

In Australia, suicide remains one of the leading causes of maternal death during the perinatal period and research also suggests that rural communities experience disproportionately higher rates of suicide than metropolitan residents.

The research highlights how important it is for rural, regional and remote families to have access to a range of mental health and parenting supports during the perinatal period.

For Perinatal Mental Health Week 2022, PANDA focused on providing people with practical tools to build communities of care around them. Informal (social) and professional (healthcare) support networks are crucial protective factors that optimise mental health and wellbeing outcomes during the perinatal period.

For rural and regional Australians, there are many reasons it may be more challenging to build or access supportive communities. Location, distance, social stigma, being a young parent, limited community care options and a lack of access to community-based health and care providers are all contributors.

Many parents in Australia experienced isolation while having their babies during COVID-19 but, for some rural and regional Australian families, that experience of isolation is not limited to a pandemic. We have seen demand for our service at PANDA remain very strong after the pandemic and we want to ensure rural and regional parents are not forgotten.

In 2021–22, approximately 19 per cent of callers to the PANDA Helpline contacted us from their homes in regional, rural or remote communities. These families require access to support when and how they need it. PANDA is proud to provide Australia’s only free, national phone-based clinical counselling and peer-support service to all Australian families, wherever they live.

PANDA also has close ties to healthcare providers and services throughout regional and rural Australia who are caring for parents and their infants. We offer a free secondary consultation service for healthcare providers working with perinatal patients and clients, including risk management and assessment, safety planning, case formulation and referral pathways.

Our Learning Hub hosts a range of free webinars, short courses and training modules for healthcare providers wanting to upskill in supporting people experiencing perinatal mental health and wellbeing concerns. PANDA has also recently launched our catalogue of psychoeducational fact sheets, brochures and flyers that are suitable for display in healthcare settings and to share with families.

PANDA is committed to supporting the perinatal mental health and wellbeing of regional, rural and remote families, and the wonderful healthcare providers who are supporting them in their local communities.

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