World-first mental health screening for BRHS perinatal care

A world-first online screening program is supporting the mental health of new and expectant mums across East Gippsland thanks to a new partnership between Bairnsdale Regional Health Service and 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 screening tool to identify mums at risk and facilitate faster and more effective mental health screening in the perinatal period (pregnancy and year following birth).  iCOPE enables perinatal mental health screening to be undertaken across all clinical settings, from in-person to remote screening via the patient’s mobile phone.

The new service is now being used at Bairnsdale Regional Health Service (BRHS).

Founder and Executive Director of COPE and perinatal mental health specialist Dr Nicole Highet said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the incidence and severity of perinatal depression and anxiety and had a dramatic effect on the mental health of new and expectant parents. Though restrictions are over, we’re still seeing a high demand for perinatal mental health services as calls to helplines and support services continue to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

“Becoming a parent is challenging enough, but now new and expectant parents are experiencing the additional long-lasting mental health effects of living through a global pandemic. It’s now more important than ever to be using this world-leading technology to implement regular, faster and more efficient perinatal mental health screening to identify those at risk and those experiencing symptoms. The sooner symptoms are detected, the faster the treatment can begin, which is why it’s so important to spot the signs early.

“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.”

BRHS Acting Chief Executive Officer Kathy Kinrade said: “Perinatal anxiety and depression is a serious issue facing our community. With 155 babies born at BRHS in the period between 1 September 2022 and 28 February this year alone, 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.

“BRHS is proud to be using this world-first tool to provide every new mum in our care with regular mental health checks as an essential part of our maternal healthcare services.

“The iCOPE screening tool is sent directly to the women who are participating via their contact number so they we can receive their confidential information, which saves time and maintains their privacy – something many women have told us is really important,” Kathy said.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of maternal death in Australia. More than 100,000 Australian parents are affected by perinatal (pre- and post-natal) anxiety and depression each year. Perinatal depression and anxiety affects one in five mothers, and nearly three quarters (74%) of affected women don’t seek help until they reach crisis point. 

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.

“With suicide being one of the leading causes of maternal death in Australia, mental health screening during pregnancy and the year after birth is critical. The iCOPE digital health check speeds up and facilitates this process,” Dr Highet said.

iCOPE is available in 25 languages – Arabic, Burmese, Cantonese, Central Khmer, Chin Hakka, Dari, Dinka, English, French, Hazaragi, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Karen, Korean, Mandarin, Nepali, Persian/Farsi, Punjabi, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, Turkish, Urdu and Vietnamese. This allows patients from culturally diverse backgrounds to undertake the screen without an interpreter having to be present, and receive the results in their preferred language.

The iCOPE screening tool also includes two perinatal mental health screening tools that have been developed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: the Kimberly Mum’s Mood Scale, and the Mt Isa Postnatal Depression Scale.

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. 

COPE is leading the free delivery of the iCOPE screening program to all public hospitals and maternal and child health clinics across the country as part of the Commonwealth Government’s National Perinatal Mental Health Check initiative. Visit for more information.

iCOPE is also available for purchase to private medical practitioners in all states and territories delivering perinatal care, including GPs, obstetricians and private maternity hospitals.  Visit for more information.

More than 97,000 iCOPE perinatal mental health checks have been conducted to date in Australia (including clinical trials).

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 AEST/AEDT).

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