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World-first online mental health check for new mums

Monday, 06 February 2023

A world-first online screening program is supporting the mental health of new and expectant mums across the Geelong region.

To rollout the new initiative, Barwon Health has partnered with the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), Australia’s peak body for reducing the impacts of perinatal anxiety and depression.

COPE has developed the iCOPE digital application to identify mums at risk and facilitate faster and more effective mental health screening in the perinatal period (pregnancy and year following birth).  The app, now being used at Barwon Health, enables perinatal mental health screening to be undertaken across all clinical settings, from in-person to remote screening via the patient’s mobile phone.

Barwon Health Women’s & Children’s co-director Rachel O’Keeffe said perinatal anxiety and depression was a serious issue facing the community.

“With more than 2800 births at Barwon Health each year, the iCOPE screening tool will make a real difference for our community, allowing us to provide improved mental health support to more new mums and mums-to-be than ever before,” she said.

“We’re proud to be one of the first hospitals in Victoria to use this world-first tool, as it gives to regular mental health checks to every new mum in our care, which is an essential part of our maternity service.

“The iCOPE screening can be conducted on an iPad in the waiting room or the patient’s mobile phone at home before their health consultation, saving time and increasing privacy, which we know is important to women.”

Dr Nicole Highet, COPE executive director and perinatal mental health specialist, said it was important to spot signs of perinatal anxiety and depression early.

“The sooner symptoms are detected, the faster the treatment can begin,” Dr Highet said.

“Every new and expectant parent deserves the same opportunity to receive the mental wellbeing support they need, when they need it.

“iCOPE is changing the way perinatal mental health screening is conducted across the country to ensure all mums-to-be have the opportunity to undertake regular mental health screening, in line with the National Perinatal Mental Health Guideline.”

The app is available in 25 languages, allowing patients from culturally diverse backgrounds to undertake the screen and receive their personal report explaining the results in their preferred language.

The iCOPE patient report includes access to the e-COPE Directory of local specialist perinatal mental health support services, ensuring that parents who are doing it tough can get the professional support they need, where and when they need it. 

Parents and health professionals seeking information about emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after birth can visit Parents needing counselling support should call the free PANDA National Perinatal Mental Health Helpline on 1300 726 306 (Monday to Friday 9am to 7.30pm).


  • More than 100,000 Australian parents are impacted by perinatal (pre and post-natal) anxiety and depression each year.
  • Nearly three quarters (74%) of affected women don’t seek help until they reach crisis point.
  • One in 10 women experience depression during pregnancy, increasing to one six in the year after their baby is born.
  • One in five mums suffer perinatal anxiety.
  • A recent international review also found that among women with perinatal mental health conditions, 20% will experience suicidal thoughts or undertake acts of self-harm.