Historic Mater convent’s new life to help mothers with perinatal mental health issues

A ceremony to mark the start of refurbishment works to convert the historic South Brisbane, Sisters of Mercy convent into a much-needed perinatal mental health service to support Queensland mothers, babies and families, took place at Mater on 27 May 2021.

Mater's aim for the project, named Mater Family Wellbeing Service, is to develop a centre of excellence for mothers, babies and families focusing on the 'best start' for all during the early years of life. The centre will provide a spectrum of care that promotes wellness, parental mental health, healthy relationships and child development.

Mater’s Head of Mothers, Babies and Women’s Health Dr Mike Beckmann said suicide was the leading cause of maternal death during pregnancy and in the first year after birth.

“Research suggests up to 16 to 20 per cent of women experience clinically significant mental health issues in the perinatal period. In some cases, the symptoms are severe enough that the health of the mother, baby and family unit may be at risk,” Dr Beckmann said.

Mater Senior Manager, Young Adult and Mental Health Services Greg McGahan said the service would deliver a cohesive model of inpatient and outpatient programs targeting the antenatal, postnatal and early attachment periods for mothers, babies and families. 

“The new integrated service will bring together existing Mater Health offerings of Parenting Support Centre, Parent Aide Unit and Mater in Mind and collocate them with a new inpatient service for more serious and complex mental health presentations.

“With Mater Mother’s Hospital being the largest public/private maternity hospital in Australia, Mater is well-positioned to host a dedicated, onsite service to support the mental health concerns of birthing women and their families,” he said.

Mother of three, Mary-Anne Richardson knows too well the impacts of post-natal depression, having experienced the devastating illness.

“I suffered depression antenatally and postnatally with my first child and after having my third baby.

“At a time when I should have been overjoyed, I was consumed by my depression and horrible thoughts, all while I should have been enjoying the time as a new mum. This only added to the despair I felt, as I should have been relishing the precious time with my newborn.

“I was fortunate to have had help and be supported by other mothers going through the same challenges.

“Knowing that this service at Mater is going to provide life-saving support to more Queensland mothers and their families is comforting as I know just how debilitating depression can be.  It’s also wonderful that Mater is establishing this service, which will be a continuation of the great care you receive at Mater Mothers’ Hospitals,” she said.

To date, almost $14 million has been raised by Mater Foundation to support the redevelopment of the historic site with the goal of raising $17.6 million in total.

Mater Foundation, Executive Director, Andrew Thomas said “perinatal depression and anxiety can take a heavy toll on families. With treatment, the social health and wellbeing benefits are enormous and can last a lifetime.” 

“We thank those who have kindly pledged their support for this great initiative.”

If you would like to know more about how you can help create a much-needed service for mothers, babies and families needing urgent support, please contact Lesley Ray, Director Philanthropy on 3163 2736. 

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