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Perinatal and infant mental health


Exchange with the Public Health Agency, Stockholm, Sweden as part of IIMHL

Exchange participants with the Public Health Agency, Stockholm, Sweden as part of IIMHL

31 May 2018

Yesterday I completed a two day exchange with the Public Health Agency in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the IIMHL. The focus of our exchange was perinatal and infant mental health and included participants from across Sweden, Iceland and Australia.

It was great to hear and see how Sweden is addressing maternal and infant health, including mental health. I was impressed with their Rinkeby postnatal home visiting program which was provided to all first time mothers and not just to those families identified as vulnerable or at risk. They target children 0-6 years; reach 99 per cent of first child families; provide 13 planned home visits; three medical appointments; this includes six home visits over the first 15 months, which includes joint visits from a nurse and parental advisor. The nurse is employed by health while the parental advisor is employed by social services. Screening for post-natal depression is included; the programs work with a large proportion of families from refugee backgrounds and is being evaluated. The focus is on early support and prevention.

In brief, the major learnings for me here were how important it is for health and social care to work together in an integrated way. There were other interesting presentations during the two days which supported the need to develop this area of mental health. Other take away learnings for me were that to shine a light on this area we need an agreed policy architecture to provide direction and the authorising environment. Something like the UK First 1001 Days Manifesto. The policy architecture needs to be based on contemporary available evidence and learnings from the many programs and services operating in Sweden, Australia and other countries. We need to refocus the need for funding in this area as an investment in our current and future human capital and we need to position this as an "invest to save" strategy, as we know that for every $1 invested in early childhood programs returns between $4 and $9. We need perinatal and infant health and mental health working together and with social services providing universal, selected and indicated interventions and support.

There is more I could talk about but I hope this gives you a brief insight into what we discussed and how we attempted to develop our own leadership in this area. The need is to have a common vision on how we take this forward and collectively refocus the health, mental health and social services sector to focus on this area and bring the broader community with us. I hope to incorporate some of these learnings into the work already underway in Queensland.  

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