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Maternal mental health overhaul for Kilmore District Health

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Max Davies
Max Davies
Max is a journalist for the North Central Review. He joined the paper as a cadet journalist in 2021 and graduated from La Trobe University in 2023. He takes a keen interest in motorsport and the automotive industry.

By Max Davies

Kilmore District Health, KDH, has transitioned to a digital mental health screening program to identify mums at risk of perinatal depression and anxiety and ensure they receive appropriate support.

Developed by the Centre of Perinatal Excellence, COPE, the iCOPE program provides women access to regular online mental health screening throughout their perinatal journey to identify symptoms of depression and anxiety as soon as possible to provide treatment early.

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KDH maternity unit manager Tania Nicholson said the new system would simplify the process of screening for maternal mental health.

“Previously, we used a tool called the [Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale], which was a paper-based questionnaire that we would give to women coming into our service that are pregnant and wanting to birth,” she said.

“They would have to go through and answer some questions, then we would calculate a number and based off that number we would determine if they had a risk of postnatal or antenatal depression. From there, we would refer them on to the right specialist or support service they may need.

“That’s quite tedious, and sometimes not always the right environment to be sitting in a waiting room, depending on who’s with them and their circumstances.”

Ms Nicholson said KDH actively engaged with COPE to help develop and integrate the iCOPE program into the hospital’s maternity services, and was now one of the first organisations in Victoria to launch with the system and use their app and program.

When booking into a birthing service at KDH, women will be sent an online link to the iCOPE questionnaire to fill in at home before visiting the hospital.

A personalised report is then generated for each person that is based on the answers provided, covering a range of topics such as any previous history with anxiety, previous children, methods of coping with stress, and general feelings about pregnancy.

A list of links to relevant services available is also then provided, as well as access to the iCOPE app that allows women to choose what support they want to receive from KDH and how often they receive it.

“We have gone from having a compliance rate of completing our risk screening tools of about 80 per cent to nearly 100 per cent, so all women are coming in [to the hospital],” Ms Nicholson said.

“We already know what their risks are before coming to see us, so it means that we’re much more prepared, we can give them all that information from their booking in and refer them either to a social worker, or a perinatal mental health worker, which are linked in with GV Health at Shepparton.”

The iCOPE program began out of COVID-19 as a method to engage with clients while isolating, as instances of anxiety, depressions, loneliness and domestic violence increased and people were not able to physically visit healthcare services.

KDH has been a part of the iCOPE launch program over the past six months and is now able to engage with women as early as 10 weeks into their pregnancy, rather than 16 weeks as before.

“We want to engage with [women] much earlier and provide them the resources, the option to cancel if it results in medication, or making sure that they’re at the right organisation to birth, we can do that planning really early now,” Ms Nicholson said.

“It was so delayed in pregnancies before, we were intervening at a point where it’s becoming acute when we could have potentially picked that up a lot sooner.”

Ms Nicholson said the program had experienced a positive response from users and hospital staff in its initial stages.

“We’ve had positive comments through antenatal clinics and the information that they were given is great, they’re engaging,” she said.

“We’ve got great uptake with our social workers and we’re only six months into it, but we’ve certainly seen some really positive results.”

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