For many women, having a baby is an exciting time. But for some, pregnancy and the first year of their baby's life (together known as the perinatal period) can be a challenging experience. While it’s normal to sometimes experience ups and downs due to the challenges of adjusting to parenthood, having a perinatal mental health condition is different – it is more severe and will usually not improve without treatment.

Mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing are important aspects across a person’s lifespan (NMHC 2022). Poor mental health may affect all Australians at times, both directly and/or indirectly, and vary in severity, persistence, and impact (Productivity Commission 2020).

Depression and anxiety are common perinatal mental health conditions experienced during the perinatal period with impacts ranging from mild to severe. Other severe mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are less common but have high comorbidity with other mental health conditions and are associated with a range of adverse outcomes (Highet et al. 2023).

Mental health conditions during the perinatal period are common, affecting an estimated 1 in 5 mothers and can have serious effects on the health and wellbeing of women, their babies and families. In 2019, the two most common perinatal mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, are estimated to have cost Australia $877 million from increased health care costs associated with increased service use, and productivity losses from reduced economic participation (Highet et al. 2023; PwC Consulting Australia 2019).

National guidelines recommend that all women are screened for signs, symptoms and risk factors of mental health conditions during the perinatal period, to help ensure women receive timely support and treatment (Highet et al. 2023). However, currently, there are no national data about perinatal mental health screening, service use or outcomes.

Data about the mental health of parents in the perinatal period are collected by a range of health services, government and non-government organisations, mostly as a by-product of delivering maternity services. This information is not collected consistently across Australia, with differences in how, when and if screening occurs. At present, only Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory provide perinatal mental health screening data to the National Perinatal Data Collection (NPDC). Previous research indicates that the proportion of mothers receiving mental health screening has increased over time but has highlighted particular cohorts that have been underrepresented, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) women, women born overseas, single or separated women, private patients and older mothers (Moss et al. 2020; San Martin Porter et al. 2019).

This report focuses on perinatal mental health screening and explores, for the first time, Antenatal mental health screening status and Total EPDS score data from three state and territory health authorities and how these vary by maternal characteristics and behaviours, birth settings, and birth outcomes. It describes efforts to improve data collection and reporting to build a national picture about perinatal mental health screening that can inform the development and evaluation of policies, services and initiatives to better support mothers and their families.

Quick facts

In Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT:

  • 3 out of 4 women received mental health screening during pregnancy
  • Women were more likely to be screened if they were aged under 25, were First Nations women, smoked or gave birth in a public hospital
  • Mothers aged under 20 were three times as likely to have a screening score indicating risk of depression, compared with mothers in their 30s or above

Source: NPDC 2020 and 2021 (AIHW 2021a).