New mums receive digital tool iCOPE to detect perinatal depression, anxiety

Amid the feelings of overwhelming love and joy that having a baby gives, more than 100,000 Australian mums each year also find themselves experiencing anxiety and depression.

Some even think their baby or partner would be better off if they weren’t around.

A recent episode You Can’t Ask That explored the personal experiences of women who had postnatal depression, revealing the trauma, sadness, fear and panic that many of them hardened in silence.

But in a world-first initiative, a digital screening tool has been developed to aid in the early diagnosis of postnatal depression and anxiety to help prevent further women from suffering alone.

The tool, known as iCOPE, is available in 12 languages.

A smiling woman with short, red hair wears blue t-shirt stands with arms crossed on back of chair, white background.
Nicole Highet says using a digital screening platform gives women more privacy.(supplied)

In Victoria, the Warrnambool and Camperdown public hospitals in the state’s south west are among the first in the country to be using the potentially life-saving tool.

Melbourne-based Nicole Highet has spent her career studying perinatal mental health and is the founder and executive director of the Center of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), Australia’s peak body for reducing the impacts of post and prenatal depression and anxiety.

The center developed the iCOPE tool during COVID-19 when many women weren’t able to access their regular maternal health appointments.

Dr Highet said up until now, perinatal mental health screening had been “sporadic” across Australia.

She said part of the reason new mums did not speak up about their mental health was the ubiquitous pressure from social media to be a #yummymummy — to look beautiful and feel wonderful.

“There are a number of reasons why women don’t speak up early,” Dr Highet said.

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