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Our perinatal mental health screening tool set to help more pregnant women

A mental health screening tool, developed by St John of God Health Care researchers – and pioneered as part of routine perinatal care at The Royal Hospital for Women - has been included in new national guidelines designed to help improve the emotional wellbeing of Australian pregnant women and new mums.

A mental health screening tool, developed by St John of God Health Care researchers – and pioneered as part of routine perinatal care at The Royal Hospital for Women - has been included in new national guidelines released today designed to help improve the emotional wellbeing of Australian pregnant women and new mums.

The Antenatal Risk Questionnaire (ANRQ) developed by Prof Marie-Paule Austin, Director of the St John of God Health Care’s Perinatal and Women’s Mental Health Research Unit and Head of Perinatal Mental Health at the Royal Hospital for Women, and her team has been added to the Australian Clinical Practice Guideline for Mental Health Care in the Perinatal Period.

“Including the tool in the guidelines means the 300,000 or so Australian women having a baby each year will have their emotional wellbeing checked by clinicians during and after pregnancy as part of their routine maternity and postnatal care,” Professor Austin said.

“Screening a woman’s emotional wellbeing during this time is particularly important because about 10 per cent of Australian women will develop a depressive or anxiety disorder in pregnancy and the first year after birth, often affecting their intimate relationship, parenting confidence and bonding with their baby.

“This also means women who are at increased risk of developing emotional health issues, including those associated with domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse, can be offered further assessment and early intervention as needed.”

 St John of God Health Care perinatal anxiety and depression St John of God Health Care perinatal anxiety and depression 

Professor Austin said the Commonwealth Government’s recent decision to fund depression screening and psychosocial assessment through Medicare for private obstetricians and general practitioners, demonstrated a major commitment to the policy and guidelines she has led, along with her national colleagues.

“The ANRQ tool is already used by many Australian perinatal clinicians and powers the Mummatters online self-assessment tool, but including it in the guidelines and funding screening through Medicare will mean many more women are screened using the tool.”

St John of God Health Care Group Chief Executive Officer Dr Michael Stanford said one of Australia’s largest provider of maternity services, delivering more than 12,000 babies per year, St John of God Health Care was focused on developing greater understanding of the issues that impact on women’s wellbeing during and after pregnancy.

“This research, led by Marie-Paule Austin at St John of God Burwood Hospital, shows how we can have an impact not only on women in our care but on the wider community as well,” he said.

“As a leading healthcare provider , delivering more than 12,000 babies each year, we believe we have a community responsibility to continue to conduct meaningful research that helps identify ways to improve health and wellbeing of those in our communities and we look forward to understanding how the extended use of the ANRQ will benefit women and help clinicians.”

General Manager of the Royal Hospital for Women Vanessa Madunic said patients’ perinatal mental health care at The Royal had benefited from Professor Austin’s pioneering approach to for many years.

“I’m delighted that the Commonwealth Government has recognised that both the questionnaire and the formalised assessment and treatment approach led by Professor Austin’s team at our hospital, should comprise the framework for the new national guidelines,” Ms Madunic said.

Professor Austin said it was rewarding for her teams at St John of God Health Care and the Royal Hospital for Women to see the ANRQ help more women than ever before.

She noted the importance of research completed by her St John of God Health Care colleague Dr Nicole Reilly showing a lack of screening for women receiving private antenatal care.

“Dr Reilly’s research, published in 2013, directly influenced the Commonwealth Government’s decision to fund the depression screening and psychosocial assessments through Medicare,” Professor Austin said.

“For our research team, it is enormously satisfying to know that independent expert clinicians and methodologists assessed the ANRQ as the best practice tool to screen for perinatal mental health issues in women.

“It is even more rewarding to know that our years of research will benefit hundreds of thousands of women each year who will not only have their risks identified but be able to get early intervention so they can enjoy their pregnancy and newborn baby.”