A National Plan For Excellence In Perinatal Mental Health Fact Sheet

Labor believes that every child should get the best start in life and that new parents should be supported to be the best parents they can be.

A Shorten Labor Government will establish a universal perinatal depression screening program for every expectant woman and new mother across Australia.

Labor’s National Plan for Excellence in Perinatal Mental Health (the National Plan) will be a five year $20 million program. 

Labor will provide the national leadership and co-ordination needed to ensure a truly national response to screening, identification, treatment and support to women and families affected by conditions such as depression and anxiety during pregnancy and in the first year of their child’s life.  This screening will occur as a key component of a woman’s perinatal care plan.

Having a baby places a woman at risk of mental health problems – more so than any other time in her life.

The impacts of perinatal depression can be both widespread and long-lasting if it is not identified and treated early.  In turn this can be devastating for women and their partners, babies, families and the broader community.

In 2008, Labor introduced the National Perinatal Depression Initiative (NPDI), a world-first, universal screening program.

An independent evaluation found that the proportion of women giving birth that accessed at least one mental health item during the perinatal period increased from 88 to 141 per 1000 between 2007 and 2010.  The NDPI was found to have increased access in subpopulations of women, particularly those aged under 25 and over 34 years living in major cities. [i]  These findings support the NDPI’s role in early detection and the timely uptake of treatment.

Perinatal Mental Health

Perinatal depression is a quiet, under-reported epidemic in Australia and is a significant cause of maternal death and disability.

Australia’s largest screening study involving over 55,000 women shows that up to one in ten women experience depression in pregnancy and that this increases to one in seven in the postnatal period. [ii]  Rates of anxiety are likely to be even higher.

Men are also affected. According to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) up to one in 20 men experience postnatal depression.

74 per cent of mothers with pre and/or postnatal depression or anxiety do not seek help until they reach the point that they cannot cope. [iii]

The projected costs for not treating perinatal anxiety and depression in 2013 have been estimated at $538 million during the perinatal period (conception to the end of the first year of a child’s life). [iv]  This includes:

  • Associated costs to mothers and fathers such as hospital, primary care usage and pharmaceuticals costs ($91 million).
  • Impacts on workplaces through lost productivity ($226 million).
  • Impacts on children with increased likelihood of low birth weight or pre‑term birth and higher health costs ($221 million).

Despite the significant clinical, social and economic impacts of perinatal anxiety and depression, the Abbott-Turnbull Government abolished the NPDI without warning in 2015.  Consequently, there is no longer a nationally consistent approach to perinatal mental health.

Currently the screening and support services available for women, their partners and babies across Australia varies significantly.  Rural and remote women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of screening and the provision of follow-up support services. Women from non-English speaking backgrounds are also unlikely to have access to screening using traditional approaches due to language barriers.

Labor’s Plan For Excellence In Perinatal Health

A Shorten Labor Government will provide national leadership and excellence in the prevention of perinatal depression through a universal screening program. In line with best practice guidelines, this will occur ideally twice in the antenatal period and at least once following the birth of the baby.

Labor’s National Plan will:

  • Ensure that all pregnant women are screened to identify their risk of perinatal depression and the presence of possible symptoms, in a cost efficient and sustainable way.
  • Empower women and families with tailored information (in their own language), to guide and support them.
  • Facilitate best practice early intervention, treatment and support.
  • Integrate screening results in to the My Health Record to ensure seamless referrals to health practitioners.
  • Collect consistent national data to support monitoring, evaluation, awareness raising, research, education and continued destigmitisation activities.
  • Encourage private practitioners to adopt screening as a key element of a woman’s perinatal care.

The National Plan will be supported by a $20 million commitment over five years. 

This funding will be used to establish and embed an innovative national digital screening program and follow-up support for new parents in the perinatal period (prenatal up to 12 months of age) across all public hospitals, maternal and child health clinics and other health services providing care to pregnant women in regional and remote areas of Australia. 

Labor will work with the State and Territory Governments to ensure a roll-out across each hospital and council.  Consideration will also be given to providing funds directly to specialist expert organisations such as the Centre for Perinatal Excellence, PANDA and the Primary Health Networks to successfully implement this initiative.

Labor’s Record

Labor introduced the NPDI, Australia’s first national screening program, in 2008. 

The NDPI was an $85 million investment over five years ($30 million was contributed by States and Territories).  It provided screening, national co-ordination on tools, resources and workplace training to better support parents with perinatal depression.

Coalition Record

The Abbott-Turnbull Government abolished the NDPI in June 2015.  The cessation of the NPDI was widely condemned by the States and Territories, by health professionals and by experts in the field.

In the 2016-17 Budget, the Abbott-Turnbull Government announced that it will provide $0.8 million over two years from 2015-16 to develop online support resources for women who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, perinatal depression.

Financial Implications

The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has costed the impact of this policy as costing $14.5 million over the forward estimates and $5.5 million in 2020-21.







Net Impact ($m)