New funding to support health professionals caring for new mothers’ mental health

Professor Virginia Schmied

Western Sydney University has received over $500,000 in new funding to develop a state-of-the-art digital training program to enhance health professionals’ skills to better support the mental health of women in Australia during pregnancy and after birth.

The Perinatal Interprofessional Psychosocial Education for Maternity Clinicians (PIPE-MC) will combine evidence-based and culturally appropriate training using Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies to upskill clinicians and support the one in five Australian mothers who will experience mental health challenges in the early stages of their newborns’ lives.

Professor Virginia Schmied at the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Translational Health Research Institute and the project’s Lead Investigator, said: “For pregnant women and mums with newborn babies, healthcare professionals such as midwives, maternal, child and family health nurses, general practitioners and obstetricians are the first and best point of contact to help them through the journey from pregnancy to parenthood.”

“This new interprofessional training program works both to engage health professionals with immersive AR and VR technology as well as rolling out training to 12 locations and over 300 healthcare professionals such as midwives, maternal, child and family health nurses  obstetricians, paediatricians, neonatologists, general practitioners (GPs)/GP Obstetricians, social workers, allied health, and Aboriginal Health, Cross-Cultural Workers and peer-support workers.”

Initially, the training program will be offered in 12 locations nationally to assess how well the program improves maternity clinicians’ knowledge and skills in supporting women with complex psychosocial needs in pregnancy and following birth. In the later stages of the project, the team will develop and trial a ‘train the trainer’ program, so that the program and resources can be used nationally.

Maternity care health professionals play a vitally important role in supporting the mental health of women in pregnancy and after birth, providing much-needed emotional and physical care and advice that helps women navigate their own needs and those of their babies. However, many clinicians lack the skills and experience to assess and respond appropriately to women’s mental health needs at a critical period in their life.

Clinical Midwifery Consultant and doctoral candidate, Ms Louise Everitt from South Eastern Sydney Local Health District — a partner organisation on the project — says this training interprofessional program is urgently required and addresses a significant training gap.

“PIPE-MC offers the opportunity to transform the way clinicians interact and collaborate to support women with mental health concerns during their childbearing journey. By intervening at the earliest point during a woman’s childbearing journey, could avert the escalation of more complex issues, prevent maternal suicide and improve outcomes for their babies and families in the longer term,” said Ms Everitt.

Partner organisations on the program include:

  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG)
  • Australian College of Midwives (ACM)
  • South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD)
  • Mental Health Branch in the NSW Ministry of Health
  • Clinical Excellence Commission (CEC)
  • Health and Education & Training Institute (HETI)


22 June 2021

David Thompson, Media Officer