2024 is the year to make mothers a priority in Australia

2024 is the year to make mothers a priority in Australia


In 2024, despite growing awareness about maternal health issues, our society continues to sideline the needs of mothers, particularly regarding maternal mental health challenges. 

However, with over 60,000 women in Australia experiencing perinatal depression and/or anxiety every year—equating to one in five mothers—and maternal suicide emerging as the leading cause of postpartum maternal deaths within the first year after birth, waiting is no longer a viable option.

We know that maternal mental health disorders not only affect the women directly impacted but have far-reaching consequences for the entire family, influencing the physical and mental development of babies. Untreated perinatal depression, in particular, can interact with complex biological and psychological factors, leading to a range of negative outcomes that extend beyond childhood. Lack of secure attachment in the early years may lead to emotional and behavioural disorders during childhood and left unaddressed, these disorders may escalate into risky behaviours during adolescence.

When you add other factors that could cause mental health distress such as the high cost of living with mothers wanting to support their families financially but faced with unbearable cost of childcare and scarcity of childcare options in some areas, the lack of flexible work opportunities for household with young children accompanied with the so called “motherhood penalty“, and unrealistic societal expectations about working mothers, it’s no wonder why Australian mothers are struggling so much. 

The current system is simply failing mothers.

The body of evidence available and shared so many times before, highlights the urgent need to address the maternal mental health gap to prevent the loss of Australian lives, to reduce the cost of perinatal depression and anxiety in Australia – estimated at $877 million in 2019 – and allow all Australian mothers and their families to live a good life.

If we decide to act now, it is possible to succeed.

To ensure the well-being of pregnant women and mothers and rectify the lack of coordination and accessibility in maternal mental health services in Australia, we must integrate them into a collaborative network. This network should include health professionals, allied health professionals, peer support groups, and other organisations focusing on mother and child-centric care. By offering holistic support from preconception through postpartum and beyond, we can provide comprehensive care that addresses the diverse needs of mothers at every stage of their journey.

To ensure the success of such a model and amplify the voices of Australian women, I call upon fellow advocates and stakeholders to join hands in establishing a National Peak Body dedicated to maternal mental health. This peak body will serve as a unified platform for advocacy, research, and policy development, amplifying the voices of mothers and driving meaningful change.

Specifically, we will advocate for the development of “Mothers-Informed” Policies, ensuring mothers play pivotal roles in setting policy agendas, influencing policy design, implementing and evaluating policies. 

To better understand the gap and inform these policies, we will adocate for improved data collection on maternal health and suicide-related maternal deaths.Currently, mortality figures in Australia only account for deaths within the first 42 days post-birth, neglecting to capture occurrences of “late maternal deaths” between 43 and 365 days after birth. This significant gap in data collection limits our comprehension of the prevalence and patterns of maternal suicide in Australia, limiting our ability to implement effective interventions and support systems. Therefore, closing this data deficit is imperative for policymakers to make informed, evidence-based decisions and address the critical issue of maternal mental health with precision and urgency. Additionally, with increased funding for research on postpartum recovery we will be able to establish best practices and evaluate the effectiveness of current and future policies, driving continuous improvement in maternal mental health support. 

Finally, we will advocate for immediate support to address the urgent needs of mothers, starting with a National Public Awareness Campaign on maternal mental health to reduce stigma and raise awareness about the different types of maternal mental health disorders and the resources available for mothers and their families. 

Ultimately, universal access to high-quality maternal mental health care and treatment is what we need to aim for in Australia.

Through these advocacy efforts, we aim to pave the way for a society that not only acknowledges the maternal mental health gap but actively works to close it.

Maternal health is not just a women’s issue; it’s a societal concern that impacts families, communities, and society’s fabric. Advocacy for change demands equity and recognition of the pivotal role mothers play in shaping the future. 

As the founder of Villagehood Australia, a registered charity offering peer and professional support for mothers and children, I’ve witnessed firsthand the struggles faced by mothers. Our mission seeks to provide essential support to mothers, recognising the imperative of comprehensive support systems. While organisations like Villagehood Australia play a significant role, they alone cannot bridge the gap in maternal mental health support. 

Mothers deserve to be seen, heard, and prioritised. It’s our collective responsibility to create a society where maternal health is not just a talking point but a genuine priority.


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